Most of us understand that more often than not, improvement usually comes at a cost.
If a bodybuilder wants that perfectly sculpted body, he must train extremely hard and maintain a strict diet; if you are saving up for that new car or house, sacrifices have to be made financially; in the pursuit of further education, the late-night partying and binge-watching your favourite television series must now make way for extra studying and long hours of research.
It should be, then, that you should get what you pay for.
And so, it is actually quite refreshing to see the hundreds of dollars being forked out by motorists weekly for the fuel tax being put to good use, as improved roads were promised once we paid more at the pump.
And it is also very comforting to know that special attention is being paid to one of the busiest sections of the island’s highways, and motorists can feel relaxed and comfortable that they won’t catch a flat tire as they cruise at up to 80 kilometres an hour (of course, they shouldn’t be going faster than the speed limit on that stretch of the highway).
But what price for the roadworks on the stretch of the ABC highway between the Norman Niles Roundabout and the Clyde Walcott Roundabout/Hothersal Turning should a busy nation pay?
To have half of the highway inaccessible at peak times during the day is absolutely ridiculous. Having to deal with such traffic congestion as citizens hustle to work between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. is total madness.
Yet, these particular roadworks tell a more general and unflattering story about gridlock in our nation. It’s bad enough that vehicles snake through choked roads and byways, clog key arteries into and out of the city, fraying nerves and burning up precious minutes and hours better left for productivity. Every weekday, motorists and passengers have to endure impossibly long lines of traffic during the morning, lunchtime and afternoon peak times.
And then come the men from the Ministry of Transport and Works, patiently painting pedestrian crossings and other signage in the roadway.
The ongoing repairs to the highway, though welcome, merely add a summit to a mountain.
Motorists have taken to social media to vent their anger and frustration of having to wait hours to navigate the one-lane traffic which has now been implemented on a vital section of the ABC Highway.
One woman complained that what was normally a 15-minute trip using that stretch of the highway had now turned into an hour-and-a-half nightmare.
But the oft-repeated solution – have them work when we don’t need the road – may have a cost beyond overtime pay.
It is dangerous to suggest that the work should only be done at night; spare a thought for the safety challenges facing workers on the site.
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, night work is “inherently more dangerous” due to reduced visibility and the much higher percentage of impaired drivers.
The Texas Transportation Institute suggests that work zone intrusions at night tend to cause more serious injuries than those during the day. In addition to these safety concerns, it is also more difficult to ensure the quality of the work done at night due to low light.
But, it is just not feasible for that work to continue only during peak times, as it also presents several other challenges.
In an attempt to avoid the traffic jam caused by the single lane access to the highway, motorists have tried to use the other available ‘secondary’ roads.
This has led to even more gridlock on those already busy roads.
If those repairs were only for a few days, one might be willing to exercise patience, but with no timeline for completion, motorists who use that stretch of the highway must now force themselves to leave home at least an hour earlier, if they are to get to their destination on time.
So back to where we started. What price development? Change. Our ‘road tax’ dollars seem finally to be going where we need them – the road. While we call on traffic engineers to come up with new and better solutions for a gridlocked nation, we would do well to avoid the route most travelled – for now – and order our business by not using the same well-worn roads at the same time.
This is also an opportunity for business and institutions to change the way they operate. This means more ‘flexi-time’ workdays for those employees in areas such as Warrens, earlier or later opening hours for shops and even different assembly and recess timings in schools.
A coordinated approach to changing opening and closing times, aided with the traffic data so dutifully and regularly collected by the Transport Ministry might go a long way to combatting a loss of productivity, reducing wasted hours, and lowering our collective blood pressure.
There are just some taxes no Barbadian ought to pay.