I have reviewed the recent article by Dr Rae Furlonge and the response by the Minister of Works and Transport, and would like to suggest that a missing dimension of this discussion is the lack of integration and coordination of various policies affecting physical and infrastructural development in Trinidad and Tobago, and especially between various dimensions of transportation policy.
As a young transportation planning intern at the Roads Planning Unit at the Ministry of Works in 1977, I was able to participate in work being done on the San Fernando-to-Point Fortin highway alignment and the upgrade of the Solomon Hochoy Highway (SHH). The basis of the design and alignment was the National Transportation Plan prepared by the firm Parker, Parsons, Brinkerhoff and the National Highways Strategy by Brown Engineering, both done in the 1960s.
The philosophy in these plans was fuelled by post-World War II thinking in the North Atlantic countries that proposed cities and town connected by a network of highways and inner-city freeways. That strategy was what inspired the M1 and other such highways in the UK, the interstate highway system in the US, as well as the destruction of many inner-city communities. The internal combustion engine car was king.
If that strategy was a questionable one for a small-island context at that time, can it be relevant in the present context of climate change, and the physical and transportation needs of our communities and society? Yet it is precisely such thinking that remains at the core of the 1996 Highways Plan that the minister and his ministry are following. Even that strategy is now old and much has changed in transportation strategies worldwide over the last quarter-century, even in the North Atlantic. There is urgent need for better integration of transportation planning, urban and land use planning, and environmental planning.
How can we be spending large amounts of our transportation budgets on these select highway projects while our overall road networks are crumbling, and poorly maintained and public and mass transportation languishes?
Perhaps Dr Furlonge’s wording was unfortunate in referring to the highway to Manzanilla as a highway to nowhere, but do the size and the transportation needs of the communities on the east coast justify two major east-west connectors at such cost, when other parts of the national network are in need?
It also appears to me that the highways strategy is out of sync with the thinking on the 2013 National Spatial Development Strategy and the environmental aspirations of the 2030 National Development Strategy.
Also, both west-east connectors are in the north. What about an upgrade of the Naparima/Mayaro Road in the south, or possibly an alternative north-south connector to the SHH? There is also no need for major highways in many areas when the networks can be improved with select stretches of two-lane “rural highways”.
The grandiose plans for the rapid rail project were abandoned under the weight of its own extravagance and unsuitability, but the calls for an appropriate East-West Corridor mass transportation system still fall on deaf ears. Thinking transportation professionals have been advocating a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system building on the Priority Bus Route. Such systems had been successfully implemented in exemplary cities such as Curitiba, Brazil; Lima, Peru, and is at present ongoing in North Toronto.
In this period of “limited funding”, it should be obvious that there is need for coordinated and integrated policy and expenditure programmes based upon land-use, transportation and environmental planning in the pursuit of climate-smart and resilient economic development strategies. Best value from public investments should be a requirement if we have “little” or “lots” of funding.
Fundamental and structural thinking and realignment of our present priorities is needed, and urgently. Unfortunately, if this does not happen, what I see with our present trajectory are more expensive gridlocked highways while general connectivity and accessibility of communities deteriorate.
Those highway traffic jams will be full of low-occupancy vehicles, with people having to travel long distances to a few centres for services and jobs. The only redeeming factor is that those who can afford it, or can find one in a competitive world market, will be driving electric cars.
—The author is former chair,
National Planning Task Force.
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