JaRistotle’s Jottings | The road to nowhere
It was perhaps coincidental that last Sunday while preparing to go to St Thomas, the news featured an item on delays to the start of the improvement project for the coastal road running from Harbour View via St Thomas to Port Antonio, sometimes referred to as the Southern Coastal Highway.
My journey was fraught with challenges posed by truck-induced potholes, sunken surfaces and near cave-ins along the road. The prospect of continued mutilation of the road by the heavily laden, if not overweight trucks that routinely traverse the road from the riverbeds and quarries in the east haunted me throughout. What, if anything, would the Government be doing to stem this issue and preserve the newly minted road, or would they emulate the three monkeys who see nothing, hear nothing and say [do] nothing?
This problem is not new, and neither are attempts to address it. Back in 2013, the government installed a weigh station in Harbour View with the intention of curtailing the movement of overweight trucks and preserving the integrity of the roads and reducing the frequency and costs of road repairs.
Fast-forward to 2018. The weigh station is still there, and the overweight trucks still abound, avoiding having to use the weigh station by simply parking along the road, usually near the old drive-in theatre, and waiting until the station is closed before proceeding into the Corporate Area and beyond. It does not take rocket scientist to figure out what is happening.
Risks to public safety
The propensity to overload trucks also poses other dangers, as it invariably means that the height of the cargo exceeds the upper limits of the bodies of the offending trucks. The salvos of flying debris, whether sand, stones or chunks of aggregate material, which assault vehicles travelling in proximity to these overburdened trucks are major hazards. Not to mention the poor state of many of these trucks and their propensity for breaking down in the most inconvenient places, much to the chagrin of other road users.
I am viewing this issue from the perspective of a road user who has been routinely inconvenienced by the damaged roads, falling debris and crawling trucks. Truck owners and operators will no doubt have different perspectives, as too will persons in the construction and related industries who rely on the cargoes these trucks haul. We need to be mindful of these differences.
While the road improvement project will be a significant boost for the entire south-east coastal corridor, if appropriate control measures are not implemented, repair and maintenance costs are likely to be prohibitive; the most likely outcome under those circumstances will be the unabated deterioration of the road, putting us back at square one.
We are an island nation, yet our use of domestic sea transport, which affords greater economies of scale, has been underutilised. Here are opportunities for the implementation of barging services, where a single tug can easily haul a barge with as many as 10 laden trucks to designated points around the island, where they may disembark and continue to their destinations by road.
The mutilation of our roads will be reduced, as too will be the incessant traffic backups which these trucks cause during road transits. In addition, truck operators will quite likely benefit from reduced wear and tear on their vehicles.
Outside of new and novel solutions such as barging, well-managed enforcement of load limits and monitoring will certainly help, but the bottom line is that we cannot afford to allow wayward truckers to maximise their gains at our expense.