Only a portion of the 9,592 km of roads in this country falls under the Ministry of Works and Transport. Responsibility for the repair and maintenance of a sizeable portion of the road network falls to municipal corporations and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
Within the Works Ministry’s portfolio are major roads and the country’s network of four-lane and six-lane highways.
This distinction is often lost on the average road user faced with the daily frustration of dodging potholes and navigating collapsed sections of roadways. All they know is the discomfort and inconvenience of commutes filled with delays and traffic congestion because of the poor state of so many roads.
Bad roads rank just below an unreliable water supply among the biggest infrastructural failures in T&T and in recent days, community protests have intensified, with residents venting their rage at the Government and Opposition. That anger is not misplaced — the problem has worsened under successive governments.
In some communities, residents are complaining about decades of neglect and unkept promises.
Since blame for the situation is shared by various administrations, neither the PNM nor the UNC should attempt to politicise this problem.
However, there is very little chance of bad roads being kept off political platforms, not with potholes and landslips in the spotlight as the country counts down to local government elections. In all likelihood, the campaign will get into full swing just as the Works and Transport Ministry kicks off an accelerated rehabilitation programme.
As he toured a road repair project on the Corpus Christi holiday, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan announced plans to harness the manpower and resources of the Programme Upgrade for Roads Efficiency (PURE) Bridges Landslips and Traffic Management (BLT) and the Highway Division for the programme.
This follows an announcement earlier in the week by Secondary Road Rehabilitation and Improvement Company Limited chairman Herbert George that the company has been allocated $100 million and will get a further $100 million for secondary road repairs.
If these announcements have not been lustily applauded by the public, that is because citizens have heard it all before. Not only that, major repair projects have been launched with much fanfare, only for the freshly paved roads to quickly fall back into a state of dilapidation.
What is never explained is why this is the situation in a country that boasts of a natural wonder, the Pitch Lake, the world’s largest natural deposit of asphalt, with more than ten million tons of the material that can be used to surface roads.
Why is it that cracks have to develop into huge craters and erosion is allowed to whittle road surfaces almost to nothing before the relevant authorities even begin to pay attention?
Could all of this inconvenience, frustration and expense be avoided by implementing a proper road maintenance programme?
Bad roads reduce productivity and increase stress, as citizens spend more time in traffic. They also increase the risk of accidents and, in too many instances, threaten to cut off entire communities from the rest of the country.
For now, expansive road rehabilitation programmes can’t be avoided because of the deplorable condition of so many roads. However, if there isn’t an accompanying programme of routine maintenance, they will all be a huge waste of time and money.