By February 2011, work on the country's first underground tunnel, spanning from mountainous Maracas Valley to picturesque Maracas Bay is expected to start. In undertaking the project, Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner is assuring taxpayers that when the underground passageway is completed in the next two to three years, it will be worth every cent. "I will be the last person to spend money on a grandiose project just for my ego," said Warner, during an interview on Friday. "It will not cost us billions because I will ensure that we undertake this project under a fixed price contract." On January 26, 2011, Warner said he would be turning the sod for the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway. "And one month after that, if all goes well, I propose to do the same with this tunnel."
No pie in the sky
Before turning the sod for the project, Warner promised to have consultation with all stakeholders, stressing that the public must be made aware in order to buy into it. "This is no pie in the sky." He, however, admitted there would be minimal relocation for some people. Unable to say what the final cost of the tunnel would be, Warner said within the coming weeks more would be revealed. Seeking guidance and advice from Dr Rae Furlonge, a civil engineer and transport expert, Warner said one option had been looked at. "We have discussed the issue of a tunnel-boring machine which is used to excavate through a variety of soil and rocks. If we plan to use this device we will have to source or lease it. We certainly will not buy it."
In delivering his first budget on September 8, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran announced that the Government was seeking to develop the North Coast. Noting that it takes 45 minutes to get from Santa Cruz to Maracas Bay, Dookeran said frequent landslips along the North Coast road have been a major deterrent to people wishing to access the route for pleasure or business. In light of this, Dookeran said the Government would undertake the creation of an underground tunnel from Maracas Valley to Maracas Bay to enable quicker access.
The riot act
With time of the essence, Warner said the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), headed by Dr Carson Charles, had been conducting various studies to ensure best international practices for the project. Nidco, Warner said, had also been undertaking their studies to get the ball rolling. "I have already read the riot act to Nidco and all the contractors that when they agree on a fixed price contract, the Government will not entertain any cost overruns. The scope of the work must include all the things you have to do, so variations will not come in to cloud the issue that will lead to cost overruns. We can't do that.
"This project will bring more to our country than imagined, in terms of opening up the whole North Coast road, in maintaining the area's flora and fauna, but, most importantly, we have to look at what it will do for tourism," he added.
Potential for investors
Past president of the Association of Professional Engineers of T&T Vaughn Lezama welcomed the tunnel, stating that the North Coast road has a lot of potential for investors. "While environmentalists may see it as degradation to the mountainside, the time has come for us to take the bold step. We have enough qualified and skilled engineers in the country to get the job done."
Lezama, a civil engineer attached to Consulting Engineers and Associates, feels the most practical way of undertaking the project is boring both ends of the two areas, to meet mid-point.
Lezama said the boring would generate enough rock and soil that could be used for the construction sector. Head of the Joint Consultative Council, Winston Riley, said: "This is not one of the projects that we should be looking at. It is not one of those that should take a priority position in terms of expenditure."