The most important mode of domestic cargo and passenger transport is shipping over the country's more than 16,000 km (9,900 mi) of navigable inland waterways, which include 7,100 km (4,410 mi) navigable to oceangoing vessels. A large percentage of Venezuelan tonnage is carried by ships of the government-owned Venezuelan Navigation Co. In 2002, the merchant fleet had 45 vessels of over 1,000 gross tons, for a total GRT of 716,361. Shallow-draught ships are able to reach Colombian river ports in the wet season. Shallow-draught river steamers are the principal means of transportation from the eastern llanos to Puerto Ordaz, which, thanks to constant dredging, is also reached by deep-draught oceangoing vessels. Dredging operations also are maintained in Lake Maracaibo to allow the entry of oceangoing tankers. The government has invested substantially in the port of La Guaira, hoping to make it one of the most modern in the Caribbean area. Puerto Cabello handles the most cargo, and Maracaibo is the main port for oil shipments.
Highway and railroad construction is both costly and dangerous because of the rough mountainous terrain in the areas of dense population. Nevertheless, the government has undertaken massive highway construction projects throughout the country. Major ventures include the completion of the Caracas-La Guaira Autopista, which links the capital with its airport at Maiquetía and its seaport at La Guaira, and a section of the Pan-American Highway connecting Carora with the Colombian border. The General Rafael Urdañeta Bridge crosses the narrow neck of water connecting Lake Maracaibo with the Gulf of Venezuela and provides a direct surface link between Maracaibo and the east. By 2002, Venezuela had 96,155 km (59,751 mi) of highway, of which 32,308 km (20,076 mi) were paved. In 2000 there were 1,326,200 passenger cars and 1,078,578 commercial vehicles in Venezuela.
Venezuela's two railroads carry mostly freight. Rail transportation is concentrated in the northern states of Lara, Miranda, Carabobo, Aragua, and Yaracuy, with branches connecting the principal seaports with the important cities of the central highlands. There were 682 km (424 mi) of track in 2002, 434 km (270 mi) of which were owned and operated by the government. Much of the equipment is antiquated, and the linking of lines is difficult because of the different gauges in use. The government planned in the early 1980s to build a 3,900-km (2,420-mi) railroad network by the end of the decade; however, the financial crisis that began in 1983 has scaled the program down to 2,000 km (1,200 mi) over 20 years. The first 7.2-km (4.5-mi) section of a government-financed metro line in Caracas was opened in 1983.
Cities and towns of the remote regions are linked principally by air transportation. In 2001, there were 372 airports, 127 of which had paved runways. Venezuela has three main airlines, the government-owned Aerovías Venezolanas S.A. (AVENSA), Línea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV), and Venezolana Internacional de Aviación, S.A. (VIASA); VIASA, an overseas service, is jointly run by AVENSA and LAV. A new airline, Aeronaves del Centro, began domestic flights in 1980. The government has expanded Simón Bolívar International Airport at Maiquetía, near Caracas, to accommodate heavy jet traffic. In 2001, 4,051,700 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.