by Capil Bissoon
Anyone who bought a vehicle in April would have gotten a registration number in the DC series. Six months later, DC and DD series are finished and we are into DE. That means more than 20,000 vehicles were sold and licensed in the country in that period which only exacerbates the daily traffic gridlock throughout the country.
The Transport Division estimates there are 800,000 vehicles in Trinidad and Tobago. If we extrapolate from the recent statistical trend, we are likely to see at least 20,000 added every year. This country is becoming one huge parking lot!
If we consider just these facts and put the partisan emotion aside, it is an excellent idea to build a new four-lane highway connecting Point Fortin to San Fernando and beyond. Think of the ease of travel, the savings on vehicle fuel and repairs, the increased productivity and business opportunities…it becomes clear why it makes sense to build this highway.
When last did you try to get from Point Fortin to San Fernando in the morning?
This modern and interconnecting highway will end the daily hardships citizens of South Trinidad have using the present overburdened roadways. Those who do it understand the nightmare of getting up at 4 a.m. and dragging children out of bed to prepare for the horrendous journey to school and work. The return trip in the evenings is no better.
Take a glance into the future and that same family can sleep two extra hours, kids can be more relaxed and everyone caught in that daily gridlock can lower the stress level with a new highway that can get them from home to San Fernando in less than half an hour.
Yet from the day the government broke the sod to begin construction of the highway, the project has faced hostility from a small group of the people led by Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, who previously challenged the Patrick Manning-led People’s National Movement (PNM) administration over the construction of an aluminium smelter in La Brea.
We’ve been through the protests, the arrests, the demolition of camps and are currently witnessing hunger strike #2. While one man has put his life on the line over this, others who are eager to support his mission – including a group of urban elites who likely don’t know how to get to Debe and have never experienced the travelling nightmare that people from the deep south face – are not giving up their meals or losing sleep over the issue.
There is no need to repeat the arguments for and against. We’ve heard them all and on three occasions the courts have pronounced in favour of the state.
Today the media continue to devote significant time to covering the issue from their urban base without venturing to where the real story is in order to determine if the highway makes sense or whether people want it built.
We continue to hear from those who don’t live in Penal, Siparia and Fyzabad telling those who do that they must settle for connector roads instead of a super highway. A highway is good for the East-West Corridor and Diego Martin but not for Debe and Penal, the same way those communities did not deserve to have a university campus.
Does anyone remember the protests over the Guaymare section of the Uriah Butler Highway? Ramesh Maharaj and Hulsie Bhaggan didn’t go on a hunger strike but were as passionate as Kublalsingh, telling us that section of the highway must not be built.
But the Government understood the reason for the highway and built it. Today Ramesh, Hulsie and all of us are happy to use the highway. Caroni swamp is still in existence even though the UBH lies right alongside.
More recently MovieTowne was built on what used to be marshlands. We didn’t stage protests and threaten to bring down a government over it. In fact we take pride in the development.
So why such hysteria over a highway to Point Fortin?
Over 250,000 people would get instant relief from traffic gridlock, national productivity would increase by 240,000,000 man-hours annually and commercial opportunities would increase as the highway opens easy access to the south-western peninsula and all the development possibilities.
Yes, there will be some inconvenience; some people would be displaced and there will be some changes to the environmental balance. Development means accepting change and making sacrifices.
It’s time to see the big picture, stop the grand-standing and build the highway. 250,000 people now and future generations will need it much more than the Kublalsingh soap opera.