More than 25 miles away from the towers of the capital city, 18-year-old Christopher James has spent his entire life living in Stephan Trace, Todds Road.
The hammock swinging in the front porch of his family’s white wooden home overlooks the nearby road passing through the small community.
While the porch is now his preferred liming area, as a child he spent most of his time playing along the road.
These days, the trace is busier and louder than he could ever recall.
Late last year, part of Todds Station Road, a road connecting Todds Road and Talparo, deteriorated to such a state that the Couva-Tabaquite-Talparo Regional Corporation closed it off to do rehabilitation works.
What that meant for Christopher and his neighbours was that Stephan Trace temporarily became part of the route—connecting the open ends of Station Road.
But, that’s not all it meant.
“Since they closed it and opened this road, all the big trucks mashing it up,” Christopher said, shaking his head.
“The last time the person in charge, down the road, told the big trucks don’t pass. But, it had an altercation, so the big truck drivers got on with her, and they came through anyway,” he added.
Shortly after he said that a motorist slowed down before winding down his window.
“I find they have too much big truck passing through. They are supposed to stop the trucks from passing,” said the man, who called himself Ayee.
“At least get a police officer and let them stop them. The people on the road who are supposed to stop vehicles aren’t stopping the big trucks at all,” he added.
A 25-minute drive away, parts of the surface of Edinburgh Road, Longdenville, showed similar signs of damage—potholes, deep sinks and clusters of indentations.
Motorists in Longdenville told a similar story to those in Stephan Trace.
“There’s a lot of heavy equipment that passes here at night. Remember, the roads were built donkey years ago and weren’t built for those kinds of weights and trucks to run on it,” one man said.
“Too much of heavy equipment passing through. They need to build back the foundation,” another motorist said.
These men are not engineers, but senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Trevor Townsend is.
The transportation engineer also believes that overloaded vehicles are a major cause of road damage.
“Sometimes you see failure along the vehicle tracks and that is a failure due to overloaded vehicles, especially for roads that have a lot of heavy trucks,” he said during an interview.
The transportation engineer said his observations of failures in the highway system picked up problems of road rutting (depressions in the road) and permanent deformation of the road.
These problems, he said, were likely a result of overloaded vehicles.
As part of a test exercise with the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s Traffic and Highway Patrol Branch and the Licensing Authority in November 2020, civil engineer Lacey Williams used his electronic scale to weigh dozens of trucks on the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, near Chase Village.
Eighty per cent of the larger vehicles he tested were overloaded.
According to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, no motor vehicle is supposed to exceed a maximum gross weight of 15 tonnes.
It also adds that the total weight transmitted to the road surface by the wheels of any one axle of a motor vehicle or trailer shall not exceed ten tonnes.
“An overloaded vehicle that is twice what the standard design would be would cause 22 times more damage compared to an adequately-loaded vehicle,” Williams said.
Because of this, he said, research finds that a road typically designed to last 20 years begins to show serious signs of stress by its seventh year.
In some cases, signs of stress were seen even earlier.
“If we have a situation where a road was not engineered to carry a standard truckload, far less one that is overloaded, you get to see the problem that society faces, that the taxpayer ultimately faces—having to pay to repair roads as frequently as they are built,” Williams said.
If overloaded vehicles were removed from the roads, it could save the country approximately $58 million in road repairs annually, Director of the Ministry of Works and Transport Highways Division Navin Ramsingh claimed in March 2019.
Despite this, law enforcement of overloaded vehicles remains weak, according to industry insiders.
Seeking statistics about tickets for overloaded vehicles from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, a senior member of the Traffic and High Patrol Branch told Guardian Media that the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Licensing Authority.
Guardian Media attempted to contact Transport Commissioner Clive Clarke.
After several calls to his phone were not answered, questions were sent to him, via Whatsapp, about the number of tickets issued in the last two years for overloaded vehicles.
There was no response over a two-week period.
While information about the number of motorists who receive tickets for speeding and other traffic violations is made available to the public annually, the number of tickets issued for overloaded vehicles is not.
The fine for driving an overloaded vehicle is $2,000, but that is hardly a deterrent, given that most heavy vehicles belong to companies with lucrative operations, including legal and illegal quarrying.
“We have a situation where the business of transportation has been bringing larger and larger loads that are applied to the road, and you have roads that were not designed for that kind of load,” former president of the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association Mikey Joseph said.
Quoting a report in a recent interview with Guardian Media, Minister Sinanan said that approximately 95 per cent of trucks on the country’s roads are overloaded.
“The repercussions for the drivers are not as severe. If you transport 15 loads for the day and if you get pulled over once you are still ahead of the game,” he said.
The minister added that there is a need for a mechanism where either the truck or the materials on overweight trucks can be seized, serving as a bigger deterrent.
In part three of Pothole Paradise, we will explore the damaging disconnect between WASA and the authorities responsible for the roads.
Part 3 of the series continues tomorrow.