A senior official in the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW) is defending his department in the face of persistent complaints about the state of the island’s roads.
In response to the raging debate about potholes, MTW’s Deputy Chief Technical Officer Phillip Tudor told a Barbados Association of Professional Engineers-organized meeting last night that the problem was one of a lack of money and ageing infrastructure and equipment.
“We are fighting with an ageing infrastructure. Most of the roads in Barbados are over 40 years old,” he said, while acknowledging that ten to 15 years after a road is laid there should be some form of “intervention”, ranging from simple maintenance to total reconstruction.
However, he reported that up until recently his department had been denied much funding and was left with no choice but to fix old roads with a few old pieces of equipment.
“About a couple weeks ago I was invited to sit on the panel and I said, ‘no’ because what I have to say, honestly I may lose my pick, but I decided to say it [anyways], because it needed to be said.
“We have been requesting more money to buy equipment . . . [but] it was only in this last Estimates that we were told go ahead, order the equipment. So now we can order equipment,” he said.
The BAPE meeting was the first in a series organized by the island’s engineers with the aim of getting input on the way forward in addressing the pervasive pothole problem.
At the end of the series, a panel of engineers will compile a report and submit recommendations to Government.
Tudor, who was a member of the audience said he was speaking reluctantly, but revealed that because Barbados’ old roads did not get the technically correct interventions, owing to a lack of funds, much money was spent on recurring patchwork.
“On a yearly basis we estimate that $3 million is spent on the roads, patching potholes alone,” he said, while making it clear that “we aren’t talking about building new roads or rehabilitation”.
The Government engineer said that based on a 1994 census there were approximately 1,950 roads in Barbados, with 59 per cent said to be in fair to good condition, and 41 per cent in poor to very poor condition.
“I would imagine that since 1994 things would have gotten worse,” Tudor added.
He said that age itself was major factor in the deterioration of roads because of the material applied.
“Something needs to be done that would allow the roads to last longer because after about ten to 15 years, [owing] to constant sunlight, the road starts to oxidize.
“So you might have a road that has never had, or never seen, any sort of traffic on it but within 15 years through sunlight the road oxidizes, cracking starts, water gets into the cracks. You would see whiteness along the cracks. That is the crush-run [stone] coming up through the cracks, and leaving a void underneath. That is the beginning of a pothole,” he explained while insisting that the MTW was ill equipped to deal with the situation.
“The Ministry is also faced not only with the fact of ageing infrastructure, but we have equipment problems. The last time we bought equipment or any sort of patching trucks was 20 years ago,” Tudor revealed, adding that “last time we checked, the Ministry they had three patching trucks to work the whole of Barbados”.
Tudor also suggested that a lack of equipment was the centre of another pet peeve of Bajans – cut grass and other debris left on the roadside for weeks that eventually clog up the drainage system.
“We recognize the fact that when the road [side] is weeded the stuff is left there because we have only four dump trucks to collect stuff for the whole of Barbados,” Tudor said.
“We in the Ministry we are anxious to work, anxious to give of our best, but we could only do so when we have the necessary resources,” he stressed.