HOLE SLOWS TRAFFIC
By Clint Chan Tack Friday, September 7 2012
click on pic to zoom in
Hole filled in: A trailer passes over where a gaping hole once was on the west-bound lane of the Beetham Highway, near Sea Lots, yesterday. The hole w...
WORKS and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George yesterday apologised to all citizens who were affected by the closure of the west-bound lane of the Beetham Highway because of a gaping sinkhole near Sea Lots on Wednesday.
George assured the public that remedial works on the west-bound lane will be completed and checks will be made to ensure nothing similar happens on the east-bound lane of the highway. Recalling the occurrence of holes along the Solomon Hochoy Highway last year, George said the country’s infrastructure is under stress and needs urgent attention.
Addressing the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, George said, “I want to take the opportunity to say to the people of Trinidad and Tobago who were discomforted by this, we are sorry and our apologies to all of you. We thank you for your patience and your understanding but this could not have been predicted. It happened and we had to take measures to fix it as quickly as possible which is what we did by calling in contractor Junior Sammy.”
George said, “We had problems yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) with traffic and this morning (yesterday) with virtual gridlock because there were three lanes of a highway which people use on a morning then you suddenly come to a stop at the (Port-of-Spain) abattoir and make a right turn and then go down.”
Stating the sinkhole took “a serious artery out of the road network,” George said remedial work had to be done quickly to solve the problem. “That could not have been afforded by TT for more than a day, if even it could have been afforded for a day, because it caused considerable distress,” he admitted. Asked by Newsday what caused the area on the lane to cave-in, George replied,
“We figured out a cause for it and recall that last year there were several failures of culverts along the Solomon Hochoy Highway.”
“We are very close to being convinced that this is a similar situation where the culvert that runs under the Beetham Highway taking water from Port-of-Spain through the PTSC compound and across the Beetham Highway and depositing it into the sea, that piece of that culvert collapsed and then the road on top of it simply collapsed down into the culvert,” he said.
Noting this could have easily occurred on the east-bound lane of the highway, George said, “So we have to look now at the east-bound lane very closely.”
He said cameras will be deployed underground to determine whether there are any problems with the culverts under the east-bound lane of the highway and if repair work has to be done, it will take place on a weekend in order to avoid any major discomfort to citizens.
George said while he was onsite on Wednesday night observing the remedial works on the west-bound lane, “a lot of stuff, plastic bottles and styrotex cups and so on came down in the normal flow.” Noting there are several canals along the Beetham Highway which are clogged with debris, George said, “It just sends up a signal that those canals need to be attended to.”
The ministry’s engineers have advised a contract has been awarded for that work to be done, George said, adding that Wednesday’s event also shows “these are bits of infrastructure that have been in the ground for some considerable period and are now suffering from wear and tear and we must now attend to them lest we have another collapse as we had the other day.”
Responding to concerns the sinkhole was the result of work done in the same area by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), which he formerly had responsibility for as public utilities minister before being reassigned in the Cabinet reshuffle of June 22, George said investigations showed that “ the work that they had done was well done and it has to be the collapse of this culvert under the road and the culvert was not damaged by WASA.”
Asked why the ministry called in Junior Sammy to do remedial work instead of using its own resources, George replied, “The Ministry of Works does not have either the equipment, manpower or human resource skills to do this work.” He added the ministry had lost many of its best engineers over the years.
“You had to get a competent contractor and Junior Sammy was the best of the lot. That is why he was called in because we, as the Ministry of Works, could not undertake this work because all now we might still be excavating,” he said.
George stated, “As it stands, the work has been substantially completed and all it has to wait for tonight (last night) is that we close the road and we do the laying of the asphalt.” He estimated that exercise should be completed by 10 pm. A later release from the Works Ministry said the work would begin at 9 pm and was due to end at 1 am today.
Noting Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar spoke about major infrastructure initiatives coming in the next fiscal year, George said, “We have a problem because we have not planned our development in most cases throughout TT.”
“People go up and live on a hill and then make noise for a road and then water,” he observed.
Referring to the experimental West Port-of-Spain traffic plan, George said, “Our roads now don’t have the capacity to carry the vehicles that people have bought and use to come to work and go about their business.”
“What can you do about the infrastructure? You can’t widen Ariapita Avenue or Tragarete Road or Wrightson Road for that matter. That is why we put in the traffic scheme,” George said. He conceded, “Ideally we should go to public transport because public transport is the basic solution to all of this.”
Former Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert said if the official view is the sinkhole was caused by a broken underground drain from the nearby PTSC compound at City Gate, “it is quite likely that the drain was damaged during excavation work done by one of the utilities in the area or by heavy equipment working in the area.”
Imbert, a civil engineer, said he remained convinced that “a burst or leaking water main caused the sinkhole because voids are created when there is running water below a road surface.”
“The hollow nature of the sinkhole tells me that the material below that area was transported away by water,” he explained. “Unless there was sea water ingress, it was more than likely fresh water.”
Imbert also said it was possible during the recent repairs of the water pipe that “a culvert may have been damaged which would also cause movement of the soil below the road.”
Asked whether there were plans under the former PNM government to reinforce the infrastructure of the Beetham Highway in the area where the sinkhole occurred, Imbert said, “There was no need. Remember that section of the highway is protected from the sea by reclamation that was done in the NAR days to create the area where the benches are now.”