Minister of Works and Transport
As Minister of Works and Transport, I wish to respond to Dr Rae Furlonge, Transportation Planner and Traffic Engineer, regarding his strongly opinionated article published in more than one newspaper entitled “The Problem is Bad Advice, Not Lack of Funds”. Despite my disagreement with all of his claims, I chose not to respond in haste, instead providing technically sound and comprehensive information for readers, inclusive of Dr Furlonge, to form their own opinions.
It is unfortunate that his article appears to cast doubt on the competency of highly skilled and experienced technocrats, who continually strive to develop and implement infrastructural solutions for the present and future needs of the country. I can assure you that all of the projects under the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) are being planned and executed with the intention of improving our national road network as a pathway to creating equal access to opportunity.
While Dr Furlonge has an extensive professional background, his conclusions appear to be skewed due to a lack of information. Consequently, he has misled the public on several flagship infrastructure projects of the Ministry of Works and Transport via this platform. Furthermore, I would not want to think that his intention was to weaken public confidence in the competency of the public service since he acquired most of his hands-on experience in this field at the Ministry of Works and Transport before venturing into private practice to provide paid professional services to the Ministry of Works and Transport and private clients.
Here are a few inaccuracies he documented in his public statement that I would like to clarify.
1. Valencia to Toco Highway project
Firstly, Dr Furlonge suggested that the construction of a roundabout for the future Ojoe Connector Road to the Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla along Valencia Road “does not make sense at this time”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the ongoing upgrade of the Valencia to Toco Road is only Phase 1 of the Valencia to Toco Highway Project, which will provide access and connectivity to Sangre Grande via the Ojoe Road Extension.
It is prudent for the construction of the roundabout to take place now given the developmental plan for the entire area. When compared to the projected cost, if the Ministry is required to build this roundabout after upgrading the Valencia to Toco Road, the current cost of developing this roundabout is negligible. This simply means that if constructed at a later date, the Ministry will be required to demolish and reconstruct the recently upgraded roadway to accommodate the roundabout. This will be a waste of taxpayers’ money; and for not undertaking proper sequential planning, the Ministry could expect to be severely criticized by professionals like Dr Furlonge.
He also enquires whether the “Environmentalists know about this road plan”. I know that this highly experienced professional is fully aware that before any project is executed all statutory approvals are required, including Environmental Management Authority (EMA) approval. Under my stewardship, all the necessary requirements are met before projects commence. This project is no exception.
The Morvant to Maritime Roundabout Upgrade Project was executed under the technical guidance of the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (P.U.R.E.) Unit. The P.U.R.E. Unit was tasked with the design, construction, supervision and management of the project, which was divided into four (4) packages. Extensive works on this Project focused on flood mitigation measures, road rehabilitation, replacement and repair of major pathways, bridges and road infrastructure. Motorists and members of the Morvant, Laventille, San Juan/Barataria communities and environs can enjoy improved movement, improved drainage systems and new sidewalks for the safety of pedestrians.
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2. Cumuto to Sangre Grande Highway
Dr Furlonge considers this project as a “HIGHWAY TO NOWHERE”. It is rather unfortunate that he considers areas such as Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico and Manzanilla as “Nowhere”. Those places are real, with real people who deserve equal access, infrastructure, and opportunities.
Dr Furlonge recounts an earlier option for the Churchill Roosevelt Highway from Wallerfield to Manzanilla and enquires “When did it change?” As with the conceptualization of projects of this magnitude, several route options were originally considered for review. The route north of Valencia was one of several options initially considered. After re-examination and the undertaking of a criteria analysis, a decision to proceed with the south alignment was made in 2008. This alignment was preferred because the:
• Overall length of the alignment was shorter;
• Terrain along the southern alignment was flat; and
• Overall construction cost was cheaper.
Thus, the current southern alignment ranked higher than the northern alignment.
Dr Furlonge also asks, “How is this segment expected to connect to the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in Wallerfield?
To answer his question, the construction of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension is being undertaken in several phases according to the recommendations of the design consultant and is guided by the current economic climate. Works are ongoing on the first phase as recommended for construction. i.e Cumuto to the Eastern Main Road.
Phase 3 of the extension will connect the existing Churchill Roosevelt Highway at Wallerfield to the segments currently under construction at Cumuto. Phase 3 includes an interchange in Wallerfield which will provide access to the Tamana Intech Park and adjacent communities, such as Valencia.
Regarding his questioning of the need for four lanes on this project at this time, the designs undertaken in 2005, which were reviewed in 2018, estimated that a four-lane roadway would be required based on existing and future usage of the roadway, as a result of anticipated developmental activity in east Trinidad.
3. Lady Hailes Avenue
Regarding the Lady Hailes Avenue project, Dr Furlonge asserts:
1. The PURE Unit is constructing a four-lane divided carriageway highway;
2. The developed world is moving highways from their waterfronts as quoted by Wikipedia and Rheinufer Promenade;
3. If a highway development firm is asked to plan land use development, they will give you a highway; and
4. The PURE Unit is developing a highway adjacent to an area with significant traffic problems which supposedly fall outside its scope of work.
In this regard, I wish to categorically state that the Ministry is an implementing agency for the San Fernando Waterfront Redevelopment Project, which was conceptualized and planned by the Ministry of Planning and Development. As far as this is concerned, the PURE and Coastal Protection Units are currently engaged in this mega project.
Secondly, the roadway being constructed along Lady Hailes Avenue as part of the San Fernando Waterfront Redevelopment Project is not a highway. It is unfortunate that locally, any roadway that is more than one lane is categorized as such. I did not expect Dr Furlonge to be one of those people who do so.
It should be noted that the maximum speed along Lady Hailes Avenue was 50km/h prior to construction and would remain the same upon completion. At critical locations such as near the hospital entrance, the proposed entrance to the mixed-use development, and the entrance to the water taxi, speed tables and other traffic calming measures will be installed to allow pedestrians to cross safely and discourage driving at higher speeds. In view of the foregoing, the final Lady Hailes Avenue should not be considered a “highway”.
Furthermore, PURE developed a plan to significantly reduce traffic using traffic counts and traffic simulations by an external consultant. This included the construction of Ruth Avenue Extension, allowing motorists to access the southbound lanes of Rienzi Kirton Highway from Lady Hailes Avenue and bypassing the problematic Todd’s Street/ Gulf View Link Road section of Lady Hailes Avenue. Additionally, once the project is fully realized, there will be restrictions to and from Gulf View Link Road unto Lady Hailes Avenue to further reduce conflicts and alleviate congestion. Again, all of the above designs have been analyzed by a third-party consultant.
4. Morvant to Maritime
With respect to the Movant to Maritime project, Dr Furlonge asserts that the work undertaken has diminished the capacity and efficiency of its operations and that the drain created on Fifth Street has caused inconvenience to vehicles exiting Toyota Limited. It is prudent to point out that the scope of the Maritime project far exceeds the areas outlined in the article and served to provide much-needed traffic mitigation, as well as drainage solutions for surrounding communities. It is also noteworthy to add that the Ministry engaged stakeholders prior to the start of construction, and to date, no concerns have been identified by users.
New measures at the roundabout are in keeping with standard design practices and the Ministry is currently executing post-project surveys to measure changes in traffic flow. This project was commissioned on July 14, 2022, and timing studies were undertaken and will continue to ensure the necessary synchronicity of traffic signals. With regard to the safety signage related to this new roundabout and accompanying roadways, the same has already been planned and will be installed shortly.
5. The Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin (SHHEPF)
Dr Furlonge’s concern also touched on the construction of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin. He raised the following:
1. Why is it necessary to build all four lanes of the divided carriageway from Mon Desir to Point Fortin at this time, as well as all the designed interchanges and overpasses; and
2. There is a huge need for the continuation of the road from Debe to at least Penal as a two-way single carriageway with roundabout intersections instead of interchanges.
At this juncture, I wish to emphasize that the SHHEPF project was conceptualized in 1996 under the National Highway Programme. This project was devised to serve the nation as a highway built to international freeway standards comprising several segments, with a total length of 47km of four-lane highway and 2.5km of two-lane highway (connector roads).
The buildout of this four-lane highway is not related to current needs only but is directly linked to the future needs of the southern peninsula. I refer to a broader plan for national development that will coincide with other projects and initiatives to develop the surrounding areas that will be served by the current construction of the four-lane highway and the planned interchanges.
The MOWT is also desirous of furthering the connectivity of the Solomon Hochoy Highway from Golconda to Penal. It has already prepared two work packages to complete all construction between Golconda to Suchit Trace in Penal.
Lastly, in responding to Dr Furlonge’s question “why is PURE being encouraged to conduct almost all in-house planning, design and project supervision”, I point him toward the overall vision of the Ministry. It is to “serve as an efficient, effective, innovative, client-oriented organization geared toward the provision of safe, high-quality infrastructure and an integrated transportation system that meet the needs of Trinidad and Tobago
In seeking to deliver this objective, the Ministry is seeking to build the internal capacity of all Units, Programmes and Divisions to operate in a more autonomous fashion.
Regarding the Ministry’s entire highway infrastructure agenda, our projects have been guided by the National Highway Programme of 1996. This plan was developed in conjunction with the International Development Bank (IDB) and while the Ministry may modify some elements to adapt to societal changes, its actions continually remain aligned with the strategic direction of the State’s Vision 2030 Plan. Taking into consideration all of the proposed mandates, the Ministry will continue to press ahead working strategically, while bearing in mind the betterment of the nation for the present and future generations.
Although there will always be differences in approach, the Ministry of Works and Transport will remain open to listening to practitioners in the field and facilitating the meeting of minds with the goal of moving the country forward. I am sure that Dr Furlonge, as a former professional practitioner in the public service, wrote his article with the best of intentions geared toward the greater national good, and I stand ready to facilitate open and honest dialogue with him in the near future.