Our wants versus our needs

Published: Monday | January 7, 2013 Comments 0

By Garth Rattray

The story goes that a legal secretary was about to go on a two-week vacation. She wanted to make certain that she was sorely missed during her time off, so she wilfully misfiled the dockets of several important clients.

Her bosses were so discombobulated by her absence that they longed for her return. In other words, if anyone or anything can be out of commission for a while without causing a major impact, he, she or it is not absolutely essential.

I have been thinking about the Cassia Park and Queensborough Gardens gullies. Traffic in and around those areas has always been bad during peak hours and has been horrendous on Red Hills Road since the increase in commercial activities. I, therefore, wonder if there has been any unbearable piling up that can be attributable solely to the detours at Cassia Park and Queensborough, and if so, wouldn't proper long-term traffic planning and policing alleviate that congestion?

Was the decision to construct expensive vehicular bridges in places that can be temporarily and easily circumvented if and when the need arises (something that people have been doing for many years) really necessary? Did we spend hundreds of millions of dollars because a few motorists refuse to obey warning signs and attempt to cross whenever the gully becomes inundated? Couldn't arrangements have been made for barriers to be deployed - just as it is done for the Bog Walk gorge?

was practicality assessed?

I expect that someone did an assessment of the traffic volume through the Cassia Park and Queensborough gullies, but did anyone perform a practical experiment by closing them off and observing how well the alternative routes were utilised, and whether or not the closures (for a week or so) made commuting nigh impossible? I don't think so.

The media announced the 12-month closure of the Cassia Park gully in early June 2011. The construction of the proposed 38-metre vehicular bridge, realignment of the roadway, and sidewalks with protective rails were scheduled to cost $151 million - way above the November 2006 estimate of $63 million.

The seven-month closure of the Queensborough gully was announced in mid-April 2011 and the "construction project" (a "two-lane vehicular bridge with pedestrian walkways") was estimated to cost $126 million - again, way above the November 2006 estimate of $57.6 million.

The projects drew fire because of the superinflated costs (239 per cent for Cassia Park and 220 per cent for Queensborough) and also because there was some talk of nepotism (which the Government dispelled). And, for quite a few months, rumour had it that the contractor was 'sitting on the jobs'.

falling dollar, rising costs

However, an inside source told me that the Government/Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme funds that were needed to continue and complete the contracts had temporarily dried up - hence the transient suspended animation on both projects. Both bridges/sidewalks are now rudimentarily completed, but, with continuing inflation and a rapidly falling Jamaican dollar, I wonder what both projects will end up costing us.

So, the Government of the day wanted to build bridges over those intermittently troubled waters, but indications suggest that we could have managed without them. There are many residential roadways that need repair very badly; I sincerely believe that the funds would have been better spent on those.

I am fully aware that foreign funding, long-term, low-interest loans for infrastructural improvement are separate and apart from other revenue used in, say, the health system.

However, it pains me when I realise that because of the state of our economy, many of our suffering and poor citizens are getting hospital clinic appointments for conditions that will not allow them to survive until their first medical intervention and yet we continue spending ever-increasing hundreds of millions on unessential projects.

We need to triage our country's needs.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.

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