For all the talk, the authorities are simply not putting enough emphasis on protecting law-abiding motorists from injury and death on the nation’s roadways. While the country spends billions on highway expansion programmes, the basic cable barriers and other infrastructure to protect life and limb on existing highways are yet to materialise.
On Tuesday, cable barriers might have saved the lives of the Ramcharan family of Barrackpore when a car heading north on the Uriah Butler Highway, collided with a garbage truck which spun out of control, crossing the median to ram into their vehicle heading south, in the opposite direction.
There are no words to soothe the spirit of family and friends who had witnessed this family’s courageous battle to save their son’s life only to have it snuffed out in a minute. This was a case in which the driver, Mahadeo Ramcharan, had done absolutely nothing wrong. He was a father going about his business on a public holiday, driving his wife and son to and from the Mount Hope Hospital where his son, Nyron, 13, had an appointment for weekly dialysis. The story of how the mother, Nanda, had given her son a kidney to save his life, only for him to die with mother and father on the nation’s highway, sent the nation into grief.
While no one can say for sure, there is a good chance that had the highway been equipped with cable barriers, the family might have been spared the collision with the garbage truck hurtling from across the dual carriageway.
This is an issue that should have been dealt with long ago, given the many undertakings to do so by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure. While several kilometres of cable have been installed in stretches along the highway, some of which have been damaged in motor accidents, the project as a whole is taking far too long and appears to be moving in fits and starts. It should not take so long to repair broken barriers or to install new ones. In every instance of such tragedy, the nation is left with the despair of “if only”. In this case, if only there were protective barriers.
Barriers are not the only issue to be laid at the door of the highway authorities. Given the extensive work being done along the Churchill-Roosevelt and Sir Solomon Hochoy highways, motorists are experiencing major dislocation due to poor signage, double-lining of old and new white lines on the road, poor lighting and inadequate road support personnel, as traffic arrangements change from day to day, confusing the motoring public. The Ministry of Works and Infrastructure needs to be more alert to the dangers posed to drivers by having to cope with traffic changes at a dizzying pace amid a series of temporary measures.
T&T doesn’t need just highways; it needs safe highways.