Friday, April 13, 2007

Sheldon in T&T Express


It is quite appropriate that the Government has decided to pave the nation’s roads to the tune of $600 million in this election year, given that the roads of T&T perhaps best represent the manner in which we govern ourselves. If we initially ignore the coincidence that this age old ‘mamaguy’ election practice follows the announcement of public consultations regarding the scourge of crime in this 2007 electoral year, the resurfacing of the roads is great news. The roads of T&T need urgent attention. The transport of the nation needs urgent attention. But, will the approach of this resurfacing differ to any of the previous paving regimes that were blatant vote garnering ploys?

How do the roads represent the governance and the society? Firstly, consider the resources available, a never ending pitch lake much like the natural and human resources T&T is blessed with, the envy of many a nation but yet it cannot be managed properly to produce a desirable end product--- in this case a semi-perfect road. Secondly, consider that while the normal (and logical) practice is to remove the old layer of asphalt first, we take the approach that we just heap the new pitch upon the old. Not only is this a great metaphor of adding layers on top of the old problems but the side effects results in much more than a road with a humped profile that leaves the actual road higher than the pavement. Consider the flooding woes caused by this practice of which no self respecting engineer would be proud, or how this affects the drivers/cyclists that use those outer sloping lanes. This tradition further creates problems where previously none existed and the attempt to rectify it reeks of the attitude that brings no positive outcome for the vital aspects of society. An example of this? A simple ‘man-hole’ cover is turned into a perfect pothole by layers of asphalt and the answer is to paint a white circle around it in the hope that the driving public will avoid it. The symbolism of this procedure can be used across many segments of our society where the bare minimum is done to address self-created problems and the hope is that it can somehow be evaded.

Even the labour process of resurfacing offers representation of archaic practices that require a novel approach. In a nation 10 degrees from the equator and with a massive traffic problem, resurfacing is carried out during the working hours of the day? Minimise the disruption caused to already frustrated commuters by carrying out the work at night and also gain greater productivity from workers plying their trade of working with hot materials in cooler conditions. This some would say, is 2020 thinking. I will not go into the question of less work being carried out at night by workers, which is down to the deadlines set by the Ministry when planning such projects. (We do set deadlines, no?)

Finally, though the similes can go on and on, the resurfacing over age old roads signify the need to use public funds to gloss over the inadequacy that lies underneath. New roads are a much needed requirement, but it has to be done properly. Engineers point to the heat of T&T and the type of pitch that we use as a disadvantage to building perfect roads, but if sprawling, flawless highways can be built amongst deserts of the Middle East why can the art not be perfected for our roads?

Given his eagerness to respond to letters in the press (a practice to be partially commended as it at least displays his willingness to read the public’s view), Mr. Imbert will not be thrilled with the comments above nor the government with the metaphorical exercise, but it would be refreshing to know that an innovative approach was taken with this $600 million. Is that old bane of many, the old road going to be removed prior to resurfacing? It is so simple in helping perfect the roads that it baffles one as to why it is not done. Have other institutions such as WASA been consulted in this latest wave of road works to ensure that they do not dig up the new roads shortly after they are built, when in fact they can use the opportunity to carry out their own works with the minimum of disruption to the public? A sort of killing-two-birds-with-one-stone tactic (apologies to the bird lovers). Has there been any consideration to conducting the work at off-peak times? Where roads are being resurfaced in flood prone areas, is the road works going to include attention to the surrounding environs that cause the flooding?

Just a few questions to consider ensuring that this valid and much needed resurfacing represents forward thinking in keeping with the Vision 2020 concept and that it is not an archaic election gimmick that is being thrust upon voters as an insult to their intelligence. After all, we would not want the roads of our nation to continue to exist as a metaphor for the country through a $600 million trick, would we?

Sheldon Waithe

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