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Why we must build the cross country road

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by Dr. Jerrol Thompson

Minister Telecoms, Science Technology and Industry.

“The majority of those who live in our cities today originate from rural communities. The urban crisis is largely the result of rural neglect. Rural societies need and deserve our attention, as urban bias in developmental policies, over the years, has led to the underdevelopment of rural people.”

(Excerpts from a speech given by Hon. P. J. Patterson to a Caribbean Network of Integrated Rural Development (CNIRD) June 14th 1990.){{more}}

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, like many other developing countries, we face the issue of rural decay, high levels of unemployment, loss of hope, the continual drift and migration to Kingstown, crime, congestion on the roads, cramped housing and a host of other social ills.

At the time of our 25th independence anniversary, our nation needs to heal and take a balanced approach to development – linking and bringing our people together, as opposed to promoting division between north and south.

The Government has commissioned both an Urban Plan and a Rural Development Plan, which will address centralization and imbalanced development: a Social Investment Fund to address poverty alleviation and a veritable revolution in education, training and retooling of our people for the new paradigm.

The vast resources of the northern 2/3 of the island can be better incorporated as contributors to our national development. One of the components proposed is the construction of an environmentally sound cross country road. This first had its origins before our time: the early French settlers, in their 1779 map of St. Vincent, showed several cross country roads.

In the 1950s E.T. Joshua’s passion for a cross island road had to give way to the paving of the Leeward Highway, which was a dirt road prior to 1957. In the 1998 elections the ULP proposed the cross island road, and in 2001 it became a central plank of the campaign manifesto.

Paradoxically, in what would seem as an attempt to steal the ULP’s idea and thunder, the NDP government, in its June 1999 “Country Strategy Paper for St. Vincent and The Grenadines”, adopted the cross island road concept.

Why would the NDP government include this in their Strategy Plan as early as 1999?

Why would they hide the fact that they planned a project start date for July 2001 but now claim it is not a priority?

Why would they estimate the cost at 5.0 million Euros or EC$16 million when they now claim it would cost over 100 million?

Why don’t they fess up and state that they have been misleading the people when this document is readily available and incontrovertible proof?

In the 2000-2001 Budget, the NDP government allocated $72,000 for a cross island road feasibility study, and approached the EU for funding of the cross island road.

The many benefits of the cross country road span: (1) The promotion of a balanced development of the country and stimulation of rural development for over half of the island. (2) Improved communication link between the east and west of the island. (3) Eco-tourism development, nature trails and national parks. (4) An alternative route in case of disaster and blockage of the main road. (5) Alleviation of traffic congestion. (6) The provision of a shorter route to an Argyle airport. (7) To allow expansion of land acreage for arrowroot on the leeward coast. (8) Promotion of increased cross island trade for fish, and links with Chateaubelair port of entry. (9) Promotion of agro-forestry (mauby, firewood trees through reforestation measures). (10) Greater ability to protect the forest, And (11) The creation of hundreds of jobs from construction of the road and the stimulation of the economy.

Some benefits appeal to different people, and others are of less concern to some citizens. Nevertheless, these benefits must be seen as a synergistic package where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual benefits and not simply seen as being distinct, but rather interrelated to each other.

As early as the first 100 days, a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was established, including Forestry, VINLEC, the Manager of CWSA (Daniel Cummings), the Surveys Department, Planning Department, Transport, Works and Housing engineers, private sector engineers and a host of other technical resource persons.

I was privileged to have attended one of the first meetings as an observer, and sat behind Daniel Cummings (who would subsequently deny that he attended any such meetings). Records can easily confirm that he attended several meetings and there was always a representative from CWSA – usually his stand-in, Mr. Toon. It is unclear why he would deny this.

This technical committee proposed a number of possible routes: (1) Going through Rose Hall to Three Rivers and (2) From Spring Village through Hermitage to South Rivers. The committee wanted to assess any impediments, the physical barriers and environmental concerns of each route. (I made my own view absolutely clear that I was set against the Spring Village – Hermitage Route. However, it was suggested that we wait and see what the environmental cataloguing revealed regarding each route.)

The TAC developed a logical scientific approach to the project and a proposed course of action as follows:

(1) The environmental cataloguing. (2) Digital mapping. (3) Detailed designs of the road primarily based on the digital mapping. (4) A detailed Environmental Impact Assessment along the route of the designed road.

Cataloguing was primarily to determine if a road could be built safely without significantly affecting the environment. This assessment showed that it could be built along the northern route.