Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Peter Espeut | Insanity at the NWA

Published:Friday | February 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A motorcyclist navigates his way along the pothole-riddled Norman Road in east Kingston yesterday. A resident in the community says the road has been in this condition for years.

Apparently it was not Einstein who said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." The quote is attributed elsewhere. But the saying is worthy of Einstein. Since causes lead to effects, then all things being equal, doing the same actions will always produce the same results; and if you don't want that result to happen, if you keep doing the action that causes it, you are indeed insane!

Like most Jamaicans, I travel on Jamaican roads every day, and I notice the inevitable pothole cycle: The National Works Agency (NWA) fills in a pothole with marl, which easily crumbles to powder, which is then carried away by the next light rainfall. Why does the NWA continue to fill potholes with marl when they know it will easily wash away? Is this not insanity?

Sometimes the NWA steps up a notch: They fill half of the hole with marl and then cap it with tar. This lasts a little longer, but the tar gets soft in the heat of the sun, and with the friction and abrasion caused by thousands of car tyres gripping it and dragging it away, the marl again becomes exposed, and is washed away in the next shower.

They then patch the potholes again with more marl and tar, only to have them reappear. Isn't this more NWA insanity?

Let me list a number of famous locations where these potholes are filled and resurrected over and over again:

- On Seaview Avenue just by the Chinese Embassy;

- On Old Hope Road in the extreme left lane just before turning on to Mountain View Avenue (two of them in quick succession);

- Going down Mountain View Avenue just after Excelsior High School;

- At the bottom of Mountain View Avenue at the intersection with Windward Road (it gets wider with every patching);

- Windward Road, just as you turn left on to it from Mountain View Avenue; Windward Road in front of KFC.

I was so pleased when the road called Southern Cross in east Harbour View was patched a few months ago; you could drive straight on without having to dodge the crevices. But within a month, the same holes were back - but bigger!




On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, the MP for East Rural St Andrew attended a public meeting in Bull Bay to discuss the proposed South-east Coast Highway, and she began her intervention by saying that on her way to the meeting, she was appalled at the condition of the Bull Bay Main Road.

She promised that the following day she would give instructions for the road to be patched. Within two weeks, every pothole in the road was filled in (and I would add - again). By Christmas, the potholes had reappeared in the same places. When will this insanity end?

Some small group of persons (the contractors? the quarrymen?) is making a lot of money out of this madness!

If you must throw some material into the potholes, why not fill them with a more dense material - like crushed granite - that won't wash away so easily?

Part of the problem is that in Jamaica the use of marl as road substrate is standard procedure. Because marl is so friable (easily crumbling), it would appear to be an unsuitable material. However, it is the most common mineral in Jamaica, and is the cheapest by the truckload. When we take into account how quickly Jamaican roads deteriorate, is the use of marl to build roads cheaper in the long run?

For decades, the roadway by the cement plant at Rockfort continued to be undermined by the emergence of subterranean springs; since it was paved over with concrete, I have not seen or heard of a problem. The same goes for the dip on Mountain View Avenue near Jacques Road.

Has there been a problem on the historically problematic road through the Bog Walk Gorge (by Pim Rock) since it was paved with concrete?

I am no engineer, and I am not here recommending that we switch from marl to concrete; but it seems to me that the use of marl is the source of many of our road problems. I'm sure that better materials can be found.

Repeating the use of the same, old ineffective patching technology will only drive us insane! And to the garages and tyre shops!

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist.