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Has T&T’s ageing infrastructure sunk beyond repair?
There is no denying that the state of T&T’s infrastructure needs to be urgently addressed as poorly maintained roads and drains continue to negatively impact on businesses and private citizens who have reported spending more on vehicle maintenance and dealing with the effects of flooding, while visitors are forced to endure the results of years of neglect and bad infrastructural management.
Tackling the issue of bad roads during an interview at his office on Tuesday, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan called for understanding as he explained,“A lot of the roads in Trinidad were cut 75 to 100 years ago.”
While successive governments have only just been “maintaining them,” Sinanan argued they were not designed to handle both the volume and types of vehicles traversing the nation’s roads today.
He said this was also responsible for some of the landslips that continued to occur as many of the roads were collapsing because they had no foundation.
He said they were simply unable to accommodate the heavier types of vehicles.
Acknowledging the concerns raised by Point Fortin residents who protested over the state of the roads in their community earlier this week, Sinanan said, “The roads simply cannot take it.
“In that area, the soil is always moving so when you fix it this year, it collapses again next year.”
With several new highway projects—some of which have already started with others set to get underway this year—Sinanan revealed the rationale behind the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin.
“All the heavy industrial vehicles going down to Point Fortin are passing on the same road, but with the new highway, you will find that most of these heavy industrial vehicles will come off the secondary roads and go on to the highway, so the secondary roads will be able to last a lot longer.”
Having commenced in November 2017, this project is set to cost government $178 million.
Producing a pie-chart depicting the rank and state of the nation’s roads, Sinanan claimed, “Approximately 75 per cent of the roads are between very good and fair.”
However, he stressed this figure reflected the state of the roads for which his ministry was responsible which included all the highways and major roads and not minor roads which fall under the jurisdiction of the local regional corporation.
Of the 10,000 kilometres of roads in T&T, 21 per cent falls under the purview of the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT), with 55 per cent belonging to the regional corporations, and 15 per cent to agriculture with the remaining nine per cent being labelled as “orphan roads.”
T&T’s road network system ranked
The overall ranking of T&T’s entire road network system was said to be:
Very good: 14 per centGood: 35 per cent
Fair: 24 per cent
Poor: 13 per cent
Very poor: eight per cent
Critical: six per cent
Hoping to improve the ratings within the next three years, acting director, highways division, Navin Ramsingh said it was developed in order to bring, “all the roads up to good condition.”
Based on a Condition Survey in 2016, Ramsingh estimated that close to $900 million was needed to achieve this.
He said officials had placed budgetary allocations at $287 million in the first year; with $307 million needed for each of the remaining years.
Ramsingh urged the public to remember that even as new roads are being built, deterioration continued to occur which would also require rehabilitative work so it was a continuous cycle.
Sinanan attributed the occurrence of more landslips in the last year to the unpredictable weather patterns.
However, he said while the ministry tries to render assistance every time a problem occurs, they were forced to, “prioritise landslips based on the critical nature.”
Employing the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency Unit (PURE) to conduct repairs/rehabilitative works in such instances, Sinanan said the situation along the North Coast Road was a prime example of this country’s ageing infrastructure and its resultant decay.
Claiming this road had been cut 75 years ago, he said it was now up to the authorities to carry out repair works but also maintain the infrastructure which led to one of T&T’s most popular tourist destinations—the Maracas Beach Facility.
Sinanan agreed that a country’s tourism sector was inextricably linked to its infrastructure regimen as it provided access to attractions and sites that visitors want to see.
Confident the move to build a highway from Wallerfield to Manzanilla would enable wider access to the north-east region, Sinanan said it was envisioned that similar benefits would be realised from the extension of the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin.
Meanwhile, work is scheduled to begin in March on the Curepe Interchange, while final designs are being completed for the Diego Martin Interchange.
Weighing in on the issue, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello does not believe his city’s aged infrastructure is deterring people from coming to the busy hub.
He revealed while drainage was the most pressing issue right now, steps were being taken to address it; along with a comprehensive traffic management plan.
Regrello said their efforts would hinge on the fiscal allocations they receive, as this figure is yet to be confirmed.
In 2016, the San Fernando City Corporation received a $137 million subvention, while the same was awarded in 2017.
A request for the same amount was submitted for fiscal 2018 but there has been no word yet on how much they will be given to operate for this year.
He added, “Despite the problems we are facing as it relates to infrastructure, more and more people are flocking to San Fernando for shopping, business and entertainment.
“The city has undergone tremendous development in the recent past and we are experiencing an upsurge in individuals wanting to be in this part of the country.”
Value for money
Referring to many of the ministry’s plans as, “value for money projects,” Sinanan said the government was seeking to broaden its collaboration with the private sector as he said measures were currently being explored on how they could play a greater role in upcoming projects.
He claimed the construction sector was one way to stimulate economic activity.
“We see infrastructure as the key factor in development and that is why government has put a lot of emphasis on it.”
Also forming part of the nation’s infrastructure are water pumps and sluice-gates, most of which are older than 30 years and do not work.
Sinanan said they recently implemented a programme via the drainage division which would result in intensive repair works, in addition to repair and replace where necessary.
“Infrastructure is dynamic and just like you can’t stop traffic, you have to be able to keep up with it.”
Pure effort to improve T&T
PURE director, Hayden Phillip, said while they also helped to maintain roads under the MOWT’s ambit, they often stepped in to provide assistance to other agencies unable to meet their burden.
“Once we go in to rehabilitate a road, we will do everything necessary on that road.”
“If there is landslip to repair, we will do it. If there are drains and bridges to be built, we will build them and we also do the final road paving.”
Confirming PURE conducted 121 projects last year which included road paving, additional traffic lanes and building of drains and culverts, Phillip said the total amount of money spent for 2017 on these projects was $177 million.
Armed with a budget of $145 million for this fiscal period, Phillip said 2018’s agenda included 108 roads which needed to be over-hauled.
The scope of works to be done include building drains and culverts, installing bridges, averting landslips and paving.
He, too, like Sinanan, took comfort that employment opportunities were being created for locals in the respective areas, as he revealed over 75 people had been employed on the Moruga Upgrade Project.
Pressed to say how the government could preserve the nation’s infrastructure after building and repairing, Sinanan outlined one measure he believed will bring the most relief in the immediate future as he replied, “What damages the road is heavy-axle loading.”
He said officials recently started pulling trucks off the road and weighing them. “They even wanted to introduce a weigh-scale bridge in San Fernando near the OAS compound,” he said.
“Once we start enforcing axle loading, we could reduce the rate of deterioration on the nation’s roads.”
Sinanan said it was no hidden secret T&T was experiencing a “cash flow problem right now,” but he assured the MOWT would fulfill its promises.
Sailing through the port
Addressing the rash of problems plaguing the Port Authority of T&T (PATT), Sinanan said they had benefited significantly from heavy government subsidies in the past.
He sounded a warning when he said, “Unfortunately, going forward, the culture on the port has to change.”
Suffering from an ageing infrastructure as well, the minister said the PATT had also experienced a significant reduction in cargo capacity.
“Over the past two years, there have been challenges with the inter-island ferry which is only 20 per cent of the PATT’s operations”
Sinanan explained, “The problem we have is that passenger vessels used before were not new vessels and their lifespan has expired.”
Admitting that maintenance had not kept pace, culminating in the service of the vessels coming to abrupt end, Sinanan said they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new vessel which would work in conjunction with the T&T Spirit which is expected to be returned to service soon.
“The ideal situation is to have two vessels operating at any given time and this is what we are working towards.”
He said while this only addressed one aspect of the current list of woes being faced by the PATT, there were other issues which needed to be considered.
“The PATT has to undergo some serious introspection because things are not where a modern port should be.”
Dismissing the criticisms government continues to face as it attempts to move T&T into the modern world, Sinanan declared, “We are not afraid to take harsh decisions as needed, whether it is at the Licensing Division or the PATT. We will get push back as there are many people who want the status quo to remain the same as it benefits them, but government is quite prepared to take the push back in the interest of taking the country forward.”
Promise of a free-flowing future
As the ministry searches for ways to improve the country’s mass transit system, Sinanan has confirmed, “We really want to look into having a lane dedicated for high-occupancy vehicles from Port-of-Spain to San Fernando and from Port-of-Spain to Arima.”
Revealing the information exclusively to Business & Money, he said the plan was to have only buses and maxi-taxis alone on those lanes.
“This is something we want to have in place by 2020. We are going to start all the preparations for that this year. Public transportation must be at the point where people will want to use it.”
In its current form, Sinanan admitted, “It is a deterrent now because buses don’t run on time.”
However, he is optimistic that once the facility is in place, there will be an alternative so people will want to use public transport.
He said the government could no longer continue doing business as usual.
“I don’t think we can afford the sort of subsidies that we enjoyed in the past in transportation, so we must make public transportation affordable and efficient so people will be encouraged to use it.”