Trinidad rearranges infastructure spending
The controversial nature of the nationwide highways expansion program was seen as a reflection of the competing needs of the local population and the need to balance government spending against sustainable development.
The highways plan was a US $14 billion multi-year mega-project that aimed to establish new highways and expand existing major roads linking the principle cities of the island, but the immense cost, which amounted to over half the entire economic output of the country in 2009, was seen as prohibitive and fiscally irresponsible.
In addition, the long-term implications of encouraging car usage on both Trinidad and Tobago islands was criticised by local environmental groups who have pushed for greater focus on mass transit alternatives, such as the Rapid Rail project.
It came as no surprise then when the newly elected government announced that it was scrapping the project, which was still in its infancy, having only issued an invitation for tenders and only one major corporation, Aecom, was reported by local Trinidad news media to be under consideration for a contract.
“I felt that hospitals, school places, running water and much more were more important than super highways,” said Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner, whose opinion has been reflected in the support of the project’s cancellation from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her cabinet, which will conduct a review of the highways plan to assess its overall sustainability and feasibility.
Interestingly, the Rapid Rail plan was also put on hold as part of the same directive, despite US $500 million having already been spent on the infrastructure project, which is itself highly controversial. The Rapid Rail project was estimated to cost over US $20 billion and, along with the highways plan, became a deadweight on the administration of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning during the elections.
The railway, which would carry double-decker trains, was meant to link cities along the coast from Westmoorings through Port of Spain down to San Ferdanado, according to Trinidad news reports, but it is unclear whether a fully comprehensive feasibility study was ever untaken and many saw the plan as a potential white elephant due to the heavy reliance that remains on cars across Trinidad and Tobago.
Instead, there appears to be a groundswell of support for investment in the public transport system with a focus on busses, particularly articulated busses with their own dedicated bus lanes on major highways, which would play a part in decreasing inter-city road congestion.
In addition, the government has begun investing in the country’s water systems, which were specifically pointed out by the new Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner.
Representatives from IBI-MAAK Inc. of Richmond Hill in Ontario, Canada, are currently working with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) on the development of the new Matura Water Plant, which will be located in eastern Trinidad and will treat raw water from the Matura River, enhancing the capacity of the island’s water system by 31.5 million litres.
The same company will also work with WASA in the construction of the Crown Point Wastewater Treatment Plant (CPWT) to treat effluent in Southwest Tobago, a major development that will partly redevelop the waste disposal capability of the island.
According to local news media, the new wastewater plant will provide waste disposal services to 40,000 of the 60,000 people that live on Tobago and will play a part in protecting the Buccoo Reef, which is international acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in the world.
Currently, the wastewater disposal system of Tobago relies primarily on septic tanks, which are emptied by honey trucks that take the waste to landfill sites. This is an unsustainable system as the waste ultimately makes its way out of landfills and into local waterways that carry it into the ocean. Over time, this can cause immense damage.
The Crown Point Wastewater Treatment Plant will therefore become the centre-piece of an island wide sewer system, according to forward-thinking scenarios suggested by WASA.
The wastewater plant and the Matura Water Plant are expected to cost around US $100 million to develop, while the cost of constructing a comprehensive sewer system across Tobago has not yet been fully analysed.
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