Heavy vehicles use the Point Fortin Main Road.

Joshua Seemungal

As one of the most popular shopping destinations in the deep south, the heart of Point Fortin is typically pumping with activity around Christmas time, but this past Christmas, mainly because of the pandemic, business was a bit rougher than usual.

The surface of the Point Fortin Main Road, running directly through the centre, was rougher than usual too.

A lot rougher, according to Mrs Kalliecharan, owner of the Kalliecharan’s franchise.

“This started in late October when they came and they scraped the road. It carried on until November, then we were told WASA has to change some lines and it will be finished by December 10th. It is the 14th, and look at the condition of the roads,” Mrs Kalliecharan told us.

In the 47 years, Kalliecharan’s been in Point Fortin, she’s never seen the roads in such poor condition.

In fact, in the last five to six years, the business owner claimed, the roads from San Fernando to Point Fortin, all the way to Cedros, have been the worst in the country.

“It has affected my business, my vehicles and my health. To drive on a road like this – it shakes me up by the time I get home,” she said, visibly upset, before adding, “Mr Rohan Sinanan, please we are asking you, spend some time in the deep south, especially Point Fortin. Come and see what’s happening here.”

A short distance away from Kalliecharan’s, near the roundabout, a taxi driver observed the camera and asked to share his views.

Like Mrs Kalliecharan, he said, the road is affecting his pocket.

Before the road was dug up by WASA, he made three trips per day, at least.

That became one.

“As you take your time to go through the rough road, the light turns red again. And then, you have to take your time again, so the light could change two to three times before you cross (the intersection),” he said.

“The suspension bushings in the cradle ‘bussing’ because of the potholes, and when that happens, the tire starts to cut, and then the police take away points because you have a bad tire on your car,” he added.

It would not be until late January that the road was repaved after WASA finally repaired pipes.

The relationship between WASA and the Ministry of Works, as well as regional corporations, has long been a tense, complicated one.

In January, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan claimed in an interview with Guardian Media that WASA’s ageing infrastructure was responsible for 90 per cent of all road problems.

Transportation engineer and senior lecturer at UWI Dr Trevor Townsend agreed that WASA’s infrastructure is a major cause of deteriorating road conditions.

“If you drive on a dry day, check your potholes and see how many of the potholes have water in them because those potholes are being created where there is either a leaking valve or a leaking pipe, or a household connection that was made and not properly re-instated,” Townsend said.

And, in many instances, the roadway isn’t properly re-instated or re-constituted either, he said, leading to a poor foundation where the base and sub-base (lower sections) are compromised, causing the road’s surface to fail.

Other factors like the presence of heavy vehicles and poor drainage further damage the surface and other layers of the road, he added.

“We’ve talked about having a committee to deal with utility repairs and stuff like that, but that was since I was in the ministry in the 70s or 80s. We are now in the year 2021, and we are not seeing any impact of that whatsoever,” Townsend lamented.

According to JCC president and civil engineer Fazir Khan, the Ministry of Works and WASA have been going back and forth for decades.

He said while the Ministry of Works often claims WASA leaks cause roads to deteriorate through leaking pipes and valves, WASA often claims, in response, that many roads are not built correctly, causing them to slip, in turn, breaking its pipes.

Both Townsend and Khan agreed that without proper oversight and proper communication between WASA and the Ministry of Works over projects, there is a long-standing cyclical issue.

Further complicating the issue, there are also geological factors involved, according to Khan.

While northern Trinidad tends to have good, hard foundation material to build roads on, Central and Southern Trinidad isn’t so fortunate, he said.

“The Caroni plains have some of the worst clays in the world – and by worst clays, engineers mean highly-sensitive clays – that swell with water. While, in the dry season, they crack up,” Khan said.

According to Khan, a far more proactive approach needs to be adopted in dealing with the issues facing WASA, the Ministry of Works and Transport and regional corporations.

Civil engineer Lacey Williams believes the WASA/Ministry of Works issue will continue as long as there is unplanned roadway development.

Can it be fixed? Perhaps, he said, but with great effort.

He said the two agencies ought to come together to work out a means by which they can secure pipelines while roads are under construction.

He also believed WASA should invest in a project to properly map its pipelines.

In part four of Pothole Paradise, we will examine the lack of road maintenance, questions about the standard of road engineering, and the role data must play in the road forward.