End of the road: Matelot’s appeal for safe bridges

Metal sheets cover rotted planks on Marcel Bridge, in Matelot. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
Metal sheets cover rotted planks on Marcel Bridge, in Matelot. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

The rural village of Matelot, on the northeast coast of Trinidad, is known as the end of the road, its breathtaking scenery, crystal-clear rivers, nutmeg plantations, skilled fisherfolk and affable people.

The community has built a life for themselves on the country’s edge where the river meets the sea and, for the most part, they have very few complaints.

Villagers have protested about the condition of the roads many times over the years. The bridge at the centre of their latest plea is the Marcel bridge, which connects the St Helena and Matelot villages.

“Matelot is the perfect place to raise a family,” said one mother, who requested anonymity, She has lived in the area her entire life.

But she and many others have a long way to go to access basic amenities and to get to and from their jobs, a task made even more difficult by the deteriorating roads and bridges that connect the village to the nearest major town, Sangre Grande, located 72 kilometres away.

Sunday Newsday visited the area, where resident John Lewis who explained the issues villagers live with.

“For too long the people of Matelot have been loyal to the PNM, and we want to know if they don’t have that loyalty for the people here to do the right thing. And it is simple things we’re asking for – roads and transportation,” he said.

Lewis showed the bridge and explained it is one of numerous projects that need urgent attention.

“Only CEPEP working for us. Thank God we have them here, so you can at least see the edge of the road properly.”

But he said the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) is only responsible for clearing heavy vegetation, but the drains in the area need to be properly cleaned.

“Just above the road by me there is a main drain. I cut the bush myself to keep it clean.”

He said the Marcel bridge, which has wooden planks supported by steel beams, both of which are rotting, has been falling apart for years, but in the past six months has become a great concern.

A driver passes an eroded portion of the roadway in Matelot. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

“This has been going on for a long time,” he said. “Before when this bridge was in a bad state, it was the villagers who took little pieces of wood to fix it, until one night a car end up inside the bridge.”

He said while the car was passing, the rotting wood gave way under its weight, leaving a hole in which one of the tyres got stuck.

“The police came and closed the bridge and people were not able to pass on it.”

As this is the only access point to the village, when this happens, the entire village is cut off.

There are several other problem areas along the widing narrow road leading to the community, home to roughly 500 residents, that have been neglected.

The village is accessed via the Paria and Toco Main roads where Sunday Newsday observed some ongoing projects.

Drivers have to carefully manoeuvre along the road run alongside the ocean and steep precipices and for part of the trip, use single lane traffic.

Low-hanging trees, which sometimes fall onto the roadway, and dangerously eroded areas caused by coastal erosion where the road meets the Atlantic Ocean are also major concerns for residents.

John Lewis gets a closer look under Marcel Bridge in Matelot which is in need of urgent repair. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

Drivers traversing the road at night are not assisted by street lighting in many areas. Villagers have also complained of losing electricity and internet connectivity on a regular basis by falling branches.

As this is the only access point to the village, when this happens, the entire village is cut off.

Since that incident, he said, Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) workers had visited the area and put thin metal sheets over the hole, but it is still not safe.

“You’re driving on this thing and you don’t know what is going on below. If you notice, the plank making manure (it is rotting) – and no one is telling us anything.”

Lewis said the metal sheets were put in place about a month ago.

He also said because the bridge has deteriorated so badly, it’s about three months since Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) buses came to the village.

“We’re coming to the height of the Christmas season. People travelling in volumes. To get to Sangre Grande from here in a maxi will cost you $50, and sometimes you have to pay for two seats if you have groceries with you.

“Don’t mind the bus used to run morning and evening, but it was still an ease-up, especially for poor people.”

He said owing to the pandemic, the village council has not been meeting, but there are still members in contact with councillor Martin “Terry” Rondon (Valencia East/Toco).

“The thing that bothers me is that prior to the election, the MP, Mr Rondon, Rohan Sinanan (Minister of Works and Transport) – you’re seeing them sometimes three times for the week, sometimes twice in one day. We want to know what is going on, especially when we have problems like these. They need to talk to us.”

Lewis said further up the road, between Shark River and St Helena, there is another wooden bridge that is also deteriorating. He said work was done on it in 2015, but the rotting wood was replaced with more wooden planks which themselves are now rotting.

John Wilson listens to his music as he looks out at the sea on Andrew Street, Matelot. - PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

He also identified another portion of the road that has eroded, leaving only half passable.

“That was a small hole in August or even before that,” said Lewis. “We don’t know if people don’t come and supervise the work so it is not done properly, but that is the end result. It didn’t last six years.”

Rondon, in a phone interview, said the work on the bridge falls under the purview of the Ministry of Works and Transport. He said he spoke to staff at the ministry, who promised him the metal sheets will be removed soon and work on the bridge will begin, and he believes they will stick to their word.

“It is one of the few remaining wooden bridges,” he said. “They will be coming soon to fix the bridge.”

He said the area is plagued with coastal erosion, as the road winds along the water’s edge. The work to be done, he said, is part and parcel of the coastal erosion plan for the north coast.

“Very soon in the new year we will be coming in to do (more) work.”

He said this includes using stone along the road instead of a concrete wall, which will help with the erosion.

Rondon promised work on the bridge will begin before the end of the year. There is also work, he said, being done at other locations along the main road, including Breakfast River. These, too, he said, will be done by the end of the year. and similar projects are coming to neighbouring villages such as Sans Souci and Cumana.

Sunday Newsday tried to reach Sinanan and chairman of the SGRC Anil Juteram, but was unsuccessful.


"End of the road: Matelot’s appeal for safe bridges"

More in this section