Editorial | Protect our road network
Citizens of Hanover have been complaining about damage to their roads caused by overloaded trucks transporting aggregate to a 2,000-room tourism project on the Westmoreland border.
Complaints to the Hanover Municipal Corporation (HMC) have reportedly increased as the cumulative negative effects of heavy-duty vehicles on the road network become more apparent. A concerned councillor, Marvel Sewell, of the Green Island division, pointed to the fact that, already, parts of the network have been severely damaged and the truckers have now started to use an alternate route, with the same result being anticipated.
The councillor added that trucks are responsible for damaging underground pipes and are being blamed for causing traffic accidents. Additionally, they are the source of spillage and a present risk of flying debris causing injury to motorists or pedestrians, as well as creating vulnerability for bridges.
Trucks are manufactured to carry specific loads. They might be capable of carrying more weight than is legally allowed, but this would be problematic for both the working life of the vehicles and the roads on which they operate.
Most of our roads were not designed to take 20-wheelers and, when other variables such as tyre width, increased velocity and axle group are considered, these vehicles can create enormous damage to the road network.
In a perfect world, citizens would heartily welcome the quickening pace of these infrastructure and private projects, for such activities point to development and the potential for employment and economic growth. But, how do we protect the national asset that is our road network while accommodating these projects which require the movement of large volumes of material and goods?
It is ironic that, even as the Government embarks upon a major road-rebuilding programme, it is challenged to maintain the roads already in place and protect them from the ravages of over-laden trucks and heavy-duty vehicles which are known to contribute to the deterioration of the roads.
This is where the importance of weigh stations comes in, for they are the primary mechanism for ensuring that truckers operate within the law. It was announced in 2009 that the Commercial Vehicle Safety and Weight Limit Enforcement Programme would establish fixed weigh stations and portable weigh scales in specific locations, in St. Catherine, Kingston, Trelawny and St Mary.
Why do we have this problem when there is an enforcement agency mandated to ensure that truckers comply with the law? The answer is that, like every other aspect of life in Jamaica, an adequate number of laws and regulations are on the books, but they are vastly under-enforced. If trucks were consistently weighed and inspected, and operators fined and sanctioned for breaches, the people of Hanover would not now be seeking redress.
In his contribution to the 2022 Budget Debate, St Mary MP Dr Morais Guy appealed to the National Works Agency (NWA) to move urgently to deal with the problems created by truckers. Dr Guy suggested that a 10-per-cent levy be applied for each ton of aggregate sold, and that these funds be used to offset road maintenance. That, too, might be a deterrent to those who seek to flout the law.
Freight-hauling trucks might be with us for a long time. If, in the course of development, roads are viewed as part of an integrated transport system, then there has to be more than passing consideration given to the revival of the rail system. Surely, the policy planners have been looking at a variety of options in a bid to reduce the negative impact of freight by road. Freight by rail looms as one of the obvious options, one which could be developed by a public/private partnership.