Gov't should act on Mr E G Hunter's suggestion

Gov't should act on Mr E G Hunter's suggestion

Monday, November 23, 2020

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Last Tuesday, a few hours before Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the allocation of $1 billion for emergency road repairs and clean-up activities across the island following the recent period of heavy rain, Mr E G Hunter, CEO of the National Works Agency (NWA), highlighted a point we have often made in this space.

In essence, what Mr Hunter told the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee of Parliament was that we have been spending money patching roads rather than constructing them properly so as to avoid repeated repair work after periods of heavy rain.

The committee was examining a report by the NWA against the background of extensive road and infrastructure damage caused by weeks of heavy rain resulting in flooding, breakaways, and landslides across the island.

Mr Hunter pointed to the age of the infrastructure, inadequate funding, and an emphasis on repairing damage as factors affecting the state of the 5,000 kilometres of roads for which the NWA has jurisdiction — 55 per cent of which is now in bad condition.

“The fiscal reality is that the budget is prioritised towards damage repair, not damage mitigation,” the report said.

Mr Hunter told the committee that the NWA's concerns have long been documented, and referenced a 2009 excerpt from the Vision 2030 policy which stated that lack of adequate funding for periodic maintenance has led to “early failure” of roads, even when standard maintenance is carried out.

As we said before, what successive Governments have been doing is simply not sustainable, as it does not address the fundamental causes of road failure.

So, while we empathise with the position in which the Government now finds itself — with so many of the island's roads severely damaged that it is forced into a patching programme to provide some relief to road users — the Administration cannot remain satisfied with doing only that.

We acknowledge that the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic has reduced the fiscal space available to the Government. However, we cannot, especially at this time, go the route of pumping money into road repairs without a strategy to ensure that the infrastructure is sound and as such will not be eroded whenever the island experiences its next episode of heavy rain.

Mr Hunter told the committee last week that the worldwide standard is that within seven years after construction a road begins to deteriorate and needs intervention. After 14 years another intervention must be made, and by the 20-year mark it's time for reconstruction. It can't be difficult for us to meet that standard.

We again point to the two legs of Highway 2000 built by French construction company Bouygues, which have stood up to the elements over time. Each time we highlight these roads we earn the ire of local engineers who wrongfully believe we are suggesting that they are incapable of providing that quality of work.

But the point we have been making was collaborated by engineer Mr Howard Chin who, in an interview with this newspaper recently, said it was time to overhaul the material and methods being used for road surfacing. Failure to do so, he said, will see the country continuously plagued with the problem of extensive damage after heavy rains.

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