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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Rough ride from potholed roads

Roy R. Morris

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Rough ride from potholed roads

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In the best of financial times, authorities in Barbados have had a hard time keeping our roads in a decent state of repair.

In the troubled times we have had since 2007, there is absolutely no doubt that the job has become significantly harder.

In good times we have had ministers of transport and works who paid a lot of attention to the roads in their own constituencies as well as those of fellow party MPs, at the expense of everyone else. The problem with that approach, however, is that fixing your own roads would be just fine if those who voted for you only drove around their homes.

Two contrasting scenarios come to mind in this regard. For years veteran Member of Parliament for St Lucy Denis Kellman complained that while he was in Opposition, road after road in the St Peter constituency of then Prime Minister Owen Arthur was paved, but for some reason the machinery seemed always to run out of steam when it reached the border with his constituency.

In fact, I recall paving in St Peter that came to an end in the region of Farr’s Children’s Home, and again above Colleton Hill in St Peter heading into St Lucy.

Many Barbadians would also remember the days when every road, alley and cart road in the St Michael East constituency of Dr Don Blackman, then Minister of Transport and Works, was paved – but not a foot outside the boundary.

Our failure to keep our roads in proper repair also allows me to make another comparison. I recall an in-law living in Canada many years ago who bought a Nissan Sentra just about the same time I bought a brand new Toyota Corolla SR Sports from Nassco Ltd here. The first time he changed his shock absorbers was around Year 5. I was barely into the middle of Year 2 when I had to change all four on the Toyota.

But if you believe you don’t own a vehicle and so it does not matter to you, ask yourself how much of the millions of dollars the Transport Board spends in maintenance and repairs each year results from the poor condition of our roads. When you catch a bus and every single item on it rattles, from the windows to the floor panels, do you think it is because the staff at UCAL don’t know what they are doing?

It can be argued that Barbados does somewhat of a good job with its roads when we compare with some of our Caribbean neighbours, especially since we have significantly more road surface to maintain per square kilometre than any other island. But can that justify the poor state of our roads?

If there are two areas on which I feel quite competent to report, they would be matters related to road infrastructure and education. Since my days as a young reporter these were the two beats I have consistently covered going back to the time of Vic Johnson as Minister of Transport and Works and the legendary Cedric Archer as Chief Technical Officer. Those were the days when permanent secretaries (PSs) took telephone calls and engaged in conversations about the public’s business.

I recall the early 1980s when the “new” Road Traffic Act and Regulations came into force and I could refer to any aspect without opening either document. Those were less complicated days of reporting when a fellow could just “pop in” on the minister or his PS and chat about any matter. It’s been a long time since ministers and the top officer of the various ministries were that accessible.

But back to the issue of our roads. I believe a major part of the problem we face has to do more with a lack of planning than with limited financial resources.

Now, every road has a shelf life. Depending on its foundation, the type and volume or traffic it carries and the surface applied, our traffic engineers should be able to project at the time of paving or construction when it will be due for a makeover.

If that is the case, I would like to ask the experts in the MTW when was, or is, Phase 1 of the Ronald Mapp Highway due for repaving? That’s the stretch from Mile-and-a-Quarter, St Peter to Westmoreland in St James.

And, when is Phase 2 of the same highway, Westmoreland to Bagatelle, St Thomas, due to be repaved? Or should it have been repaved already? Just for ease of reference, late Prime Minister Tom Adams was alive when Phase 1 was built. He departed this earth in 1985.

I invite anyone with a vehicle who is not from the north of the island and who doesn’t drive this road daily to take a trip, particularly at night or when it is raining, because that’s when the deterioration shows up more clearly.

Don’t just look at the potholes and crocodile-back cracking in so many places. Pay attention to the multiplicity of areas where the water on the surface is white – the result of the material forming the foundation making its way to the top. All those places represent the next set of potholes.

I’ve never built a road and I’m responsible for none and I know that. The ministry has genuine, qualified experts, so why can’t we do better?

Where else in the world do authorities expect a highway to stay in shape when it is not repaved for 25 years? How can one have a maintenance programme and an islandwide network of depots to support it and yet potholes spring up and widen over a period of months with no response?

Now let’s move off the beaten path and travel along a quieter road – from Vaucluse, St Thomas, past the entrance to Dukes Plantation, beside Canefield Plantation House and the Challenor School to the junction with Vault Road.

At any point along this road, stop and get out of your vehicle and examine the surface. Look at the large stones that are mixed into the asphalt, and ask yourself when was the last time you saw a road being paved with material like that.

I would bet my next pay cheque that road has not been paved in at least 50 years. Now doesn’t that tell the story of our system of road maintenance?

The irony of all of that is that not spending money on maintenance may seem like we are saving – that is until the full impact is felt and a patch today turns into a full repave tomorrow.

But who am I to speak? What do I know about road building or maintenance? Where did I go to school to learn any such thing?