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Uruguay: Transportation and Communications
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Services > Transportation and Communications


Uruguay's small size and relatively flat terrain have made development of an excellent transportation network easy. By most accounts, the country had one of the best domestic highway and rail systems in Latin America. The country's location in the Southern Hemisphere, far from many of its trading partners, however, and its lack of land links with neighboring countries have been a hindrance in the past to foreign trade and transportation. New technologies, including the introduction of refrigerated ships early in the twentieth century and later the airplane, have improved access to distant markets. Moreover, since the 1970s the country has made a concerted effort to upgrade links with neighbors, improving road connections to Brazil and constructing highway and later railroad bridges across the Río Uruguay to Argentina.

The highway network radiated out from Montevideo and in 1989 consisted of about 50,000 kilometers of roads, including 6,500 kilometers of the national network that received improvements during the 1985-89 period. Rural areas were served by a secondary network of 3,000 kilometers of gravel roads and 40,200 kilometersof dirt roads. Road transport carried an estimated 87 percent of all freight, and a modern bus system provided passenger links between most of the populated areas. Bridges at Fray Bentos and Paysandú spanned the Río Uruguay and provided for easy road transit to Argentina, and by the late 1980s newly paved roads to the northern border tied into the Brazilian road network In 1989 Uruguay was granted loans of US$84 million from the Inter-American Development Bank and US$81 million from the World Bank to modernize its international highways and to begin construction of Route 1, linking Montevideo with Buenos Aires.

Owing to the high cost of automobile ownership in Uruguay, traffic congestion in Montevideo remained low by the standards of other cities in the world. There was no subway system in 1990, but an extensive bus network operated on a twenty-four-hour basis. The city's electric trolleys had been allowed to decay, and the number of routes had been repeatedly reduced.

In 1989 the government-owned AFE maintained 3,000 kilometersof standard-gauge railroads. Montevideo was the center of the system with lines extending out to the north, northwest, and east. Three connections with the Brazilian rail system and a new link with Argentina that opened in 1982 allowed for easier shipment of goods to these countries. The rail authority, however, found it increasingly difficult to maintain passenger trains in the face of a decade of declining ridership. In 1988 all passenger service was discontinued under the government's five-year rationalization program designed to downsize the stagnant railroad subsector.

Carrasco International Airport, located twenty-one kilometers from Montevideo, was the country's principal airport. Capitán Curbelo Airport, near Punta del Este, also handled international flights to Brazil and Argentina. Fourteen other primarily commercial airports with paved runways were distributed throughout Uruguay. Uruguayan National Airlines (Primeras Líneas Uruguayas de Navegación Aérea -- PLUNA) operated fourteen aircraft to domestic destinations and neighboring countries. Three Boeing 737s and one Boeing 707 were the workhorses of PLUNA's regional service. Uruguayan Military Air Transport (Transportes AéreosMilitares Uruguayos -- TAMU), a small airline owned by the Uruguayan Air Force, maintained commercial flights on several domestic and foreign routes.

Despite improvements in land and air transportation since the 1960s, most foreign trade still went by water. Montevideo was the country's principal port, handling close to 60 percent of all cargo in the early 1980s. Other major ports included Colonia and Punta del Este on the Río de la Plata Estuary and Fray Bentos, Paysandú, and Salto on the Río Uruguay. Passenger ferries linked Montevideo and Buenos Aires with six-hour-long crossings via Colonia, and a modern high-speed hydrofoil traveled from Colonia to Buenos Aires in three and one-half hours.

River transport remained an important means of transportation, carrying about 5 percent of all freight, and the country counted over 1,600 kilometers of navigable inland waterways. The Río Uruguay was by far the most important waterway, and oceangoing ships of up to 4.2 meters draught could travel north as far as Paysandú. Smaller vessels of up to 2.7 meters draught could travel upstream to Salto.

Broadcast facilities were numerous, and all parts of the country could receive at least one AM radio station or one television station. In 1990 there were ninety-nine AM stations, a quarter of which were in the Montevideo area. Ten of the AM stations broadcast on shortwave frequencies to reach a larger audience both domestically and abroad. All stations, except for one government-owned transmitter, were commercial, and broadcasts were in Spanish. Montevideo had four television stations; another twenty-two were scattered in towns across the country. Uruguayans had an estimated 1.8 million radio receivers and 650,000 television sets in 1990.

Improvement of the nation's telephone system was a priority for the Sanguinetti government. By 1990 there were over 345,000 telephones (at least 11 percent of the population, the highest per capita in South America), an increase of over 25 percent from five years earlier. The US$13 million expansion of service, about half of which took place in the country's interior, helped reduce the number of households and businesses on a waiting list for telephone service. The government's monopolistic communicationsagency, ANTEL, planned to invest US$100 million in the telephone system between 1989 and 1993, extending service to another 180,000 households in the country's interior. The basic elements of the nation's telecommunications network were expanded, and the system was modernized. In 1990 the government heeded the growing Latin American trend toward privatization of state enterprises when it began allowing private investment in the nation's telephone system. After years of depending on Argentine relay stations for its international telephone service, Uruguay installed its first satellite earth station in 1985. In 1990 it had two International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) earth stations. Telex and facsimile (fax) service was also expanded.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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