Remedy for roads

New Minister of Transport and Works, Michael Lashley, has taken up his new post after a very successful stint at the Ministry of Housing and Lands. Whether or not the Government met its stated housing goals in the last term may be the subject of debate between its defenders and the Opposition — but there can be little arguing that Lashley was perhaps the most productive minister.

Now that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has rewarded him with the ministry that perhaps touches more lives in an intimate way each day than any other, it is left to be seen whether he can score a double. For sure, every Barbadian motorists will be watching him, as will commuters who use public transport, for any failure by his ministry will result in almost instant personal frustration for thousands.

That’s why we send an early warning to the minister that he needs to address with some urgency the declining state of the nation’s roads. We note that the minister has already identified the need for urgent action in St. Lucy and St. Philip in particular, but cautioned that major roads all over this country are in need of attention.

We don’t expect that the ministry will be able to banish potholes from our highways, not given the age of so many of these surfaces and the pounding they take daily from vehicles that as perhaps too heavy and too frequent, but with a network of depots across the country, potholes should not be left unaddressed for months until they turn into craters.

If a depot is responsible for a section of the island, then those in charge must have some regime for the periodic inspection of all major roads that fall under their ambit and action taken to remedy problems. And we do not regard the filling of potholes with marl as a remedy. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind at this time that the island has limited financial resources, and this places a responsibility on all involved to ensure that it is spent sensibly. When cracks in the roads are left unattended to turn into little holes, which after a few weeks can span one half of the driving surface, we are not spending scare resources wisely.

When our roads are allowed to fall into a state of disrepair and cash strapped vehicle owners are compelled to change tyres, rims and shock absorbers almost with the regularity of an oil change, then we are bleeding foreign exchange unnecessarily.

For the minister of transport, however, this becomes a double-headed serpent because there is no entity in this country that uses our roads more frequently than the Transport Board, and even without asking a question we are in no doubt that a major part of their annual operating expense must relate to the repair of faults occasioned by bad roads. Unfortunately, unlike other motorists, Transport Board’s drivers can’t shift to a less taxing road surface.

While privatisation appeared to be a bad word in Democratic Labour Party company during the February general elections campaign, given the success Lashley reaped in housing because he worked so closely with the private sector over the last five years, it may be possible now for some meaningful discussion to take place regarding the engagement of private contractors in road maintenance. Minister Lashley, it can’t hurt to at least engage in dialogue.

In this part of the world we don’t have much of a history of collecting statistics, and it is hardly likely that we can draw any scientific connection between the quality of our road maintenance and the number of accidents and deaths we suffer each year — but again intuition would suggest that there must be some connection.

Minister Lashley, please be aware that Barbadians will not judge you just on how many new roads you build, but how effective your ministry is in maintaining those we already have. Many who sat in the chair before you have not produced results to write home about — or place in a “promises and performance” document at election time.

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