Pothole perils

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

LAST WEEK there was a report of a motorcyclist who was killed when he struck a pothole. This wasn't the first road fatality in which a pothole played a role. It won't be the last.

At best, motorcycling has always been a dicey affair in TT. Motorists, in the main, appear to have an almost antagonistic attitude towards motorcyclists. The proliferation of potholes across the country compounds that hazard.

It's a risk added to the basket of perils road users face. Some people cling to the false narrative that the growing number of potholes is a manifestation of straitened economic conditions.

This is, of course, untrue. Potholes have always been a feature of the landscape. They just appear to be more numerous and deadlier now as decades of neglect, incompetence and clueless governance make their presence felt.

There is a distinct "there but for the grace of God go I" quality to using what passes for a road network in Trinidad. The very least of any government's responsibilities is public safety. Our state fumbles almost comically at crime detection, interdiction and the administration of justice. It isn't unreasonable, though, to expect the Government to be at least marginally better at less intellectually taxing tasks like maintaining infrastructure.

We've always used humour to mask the hopelessness of our societal dysfunction. "When the Prime Minister wants to meet with Chinese officials he doesn't pick up the phone, he just shouts into a pothole outside Whitehall."

Anyone who has ever given a work colleague a lift home to an unfamiliar area knows that colleague has to function like a seeing-eye passenger: "When you bend the corner there is a massive hole on the left!" "Slow down here. There's a trench running across the road."

At some point, though, humour as a deflection device wears thin. Potholes often force us to make split-second life-or-death choices. Many drivers are torn between going into water-filled potholes of indeterminate depth or colliding with other vehicles.

You see, many roads in TT are obstacle courses of potholes, parked cars, stray dogs, and stray pedestrians. For the average Trini, the Dakar Rally would probably seem like a routine trip to the auto parts shop on a Saturday morning.

When I travelled across the country to produce television shows I marvelled at the shocking decay of rural road networks. In Moruga there weren't potholes but proper sinkholes. In an effort to make the public aware of their presence, these extra-dimensional portals are often filled in with oil drums by some well-meaning but misguided soul. Imagine encountering a barrel jutting out of the road at night with zero street lighting.

In areas like Tunapuna and St Augustine cars are parked on the good sides of the road, leaving drivers to navigate the crater-filled portions.

El Socorro and Aranguez residents are forced to walk on narrow streets because pavements have collapsed. Street-bound pedestrians add to the obstacles drivers face in these areas already saddled with abysmal road conditions.

In the great city of Port of Spain there are potholes deep enough to tangle your kidneys on impact. Every citizen has their own tale of woe about pothole perils in their communities, much in the same way they have complaints about poor water supply, dreadful public service delivery, non-existent planning, and all the other neon signposts to banana republicanism.

There are also the economic costs of potholes to consider. Damage to vehicles must be borne by the motorist. Taxi drivers in rural areas adjust their fares to account for wear and tear on their vehicles.

Somewhere along the way, citizens came to accept that road paving is manna from election heaven. The Government isn't doing citizens a favour by paving roads every five years on the eve of an election. Taxes are extracted from your earnings for the upkeep of the road network.

The spread of potholes is a manifestation of the absence of routine maintenance. Whether caused by the work of WASA, heavy traffic, or meteor strike, the Ministry of Works has a responsibility to perform regular inspections and repair.

It's quite likely civil engineers can work out the lifespan of a particular road based on the type of traffic it must endure. As with everything else, we leave infrastructural problems to grow to immense proportions, such that they become extraordinarily costly to fix. But then, how else can bloated contracts be doled out to loyalist trough-feeders to perpetrate shoddy work.

Meanwhile, motorists face increased risks to their lives because the Government abdicates its most basic mandate.


"Pothole perils"

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