AMIDST all the criticism of the Minnis administration for the roll-out of a budget with massive tax increases`, The Tribune wants to hit pause and say “congratulations” for one job well done.
Two large sections of widely travelled roads have recently been repaved and work on a third, smaller area, is just being wrapped up. The two large jobs, not easy to accomplish because of the traffic load, were the western end of Tonique Williams Darling Highway/Harrold Road, which was largely a fill and resurfacing exercise, and Eastern Road which required excavation, prepping, levelling and paving. Both were done with moderate disruption which the public, well-notified, tolerated for the benefits to follow. And the results of both jobs appear excellent.
The section of Harrold Road that once tested a vehicle’s springs and a driver’s patience is now a flat surface instead of a roller coaster ride with nerve-wracking, car-rattling bumps and valleys. And especially impressive is the work on Eastern Road where, in addition to a beautiful, smooth surface, cat’s eyes have been added or extended along a section that was not properly lit before.
Slightly less convenient is the work on Culbert’s Hill where speed bumps were installed every few hundred feet to discourage vehicles from speeding. There are so many speed bumps the overkill is enough to discourage vehicles from even using the road. We do understand that speeding jitneys were using the thoroughfare as a shortcut to Prince Charles Drive, but CCTV (closed circuit TV) cameras followed by tickets and penalties that could ultimately lead to licence suspension could have dealt with reckless driving by a few without punishing the many who used the road and will now be more likely to use the long way around. Electronic monitoring and issuing tickets in an era when we do just about everything else electronically makes much more sense than creating a physical obstacle course.
Speed bumps on Culbert’s Hill aside, full credit for good work goes to Works Minister Desmond Bannister.
We remember and shudder at the Road Works Project that took place under the former administration. There was no question that the work had to be done. The infrastructure throughout much of New Providence was crumbling and the FNM under Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was focused on the physical environment. Improvements were visual and vast. The problem was that there was too little public consultation and when roads were diverted away from businesses by either making traffic one-way or creating perimeter paths that Bahamians were not accustomed to, the outcry far outweighed praise.
Roads may have been smooth but feathers were rumpled. And they were rumpled to a point that a few of the affected became significant backers of a third party, the DNA, so determined were they to toss out of office a government which had turned its attention to a need and not to the people who were impacted.
Mr Bannister likely remembers the price the FNM paid for failing to heed the people’s concern. Public consultation is not a luxury. It is a right of the people in a democracy, just as are freedom of information, accountability and transparency.
In this year’s road improvement projects, Mr Bannister made certain the public was informed on a daily basis. There was no major re-routing but there was disruption and to avoid backlash, the Works Minister was sensitive to the need to disseminate precise information about where construction would slow or stop traffic. That sensitivity showed a respect for the public and the public responded positively.
We were also very pleased to see the use of more cat’s eyes, the small reflective studs in the tarmac. The story of how cat’s eyes came to be is one of coincidence and practical application. In 1933, when there were still very few cars on the road, an English inventor and businessman named Percy Shaw was driving down a dark road in the UK one night, having trouble distinguishing where the road ended and the hillside began. He got out of his car to look and saw a cat in the distance, its eyes shining.
Shaw realised how reflective light could illuminate a dark area. He patented his simple invention the following year and since then cat’s eyes have been credited with saving untold millions of lives.
They are inexpensive, require no maintenance and should be used as broadly as possible in The Bahamas, particularly on long, dark stretches of dark roadways on islands like Eleuthera and Exuma. The simplest ones, just an aluminum mirror set into a rubber pad, cost less than a penny apiece with solar-powered larger reflective lights ranging in price up to $20 or even more.
Verges have also been cleaned and New Providence roadsides are more manicured, roundabouts improved and overall highway appearance the best it has been in several years.
While we focused on road works, physical appearance and projects and said good work Works Minister, we would also remind other members of Cabinet and their advisors to bear in mind part of the reason for the success was public consultation and sensitivity to the end user’s role, that is the public.
Motorists did not balk when it took twice as long to go to work or go home because of torn up roads. They were kept in the loop every day. If Cabinet had begun laying out its need and its strategy for gaining additional revenue and talking with various industries before it attempted to impose higher taxes across the board with crumbs like making corned beef VAT-free, the bitter pill might have been more imaginative, less bitter and easier to swallow.