Editorial: Under construction

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We are sure that anyone who viewed the interview with the manager for the unit currently overseeing the major road rehabilitation project on the Friars Hill Road and the Sir George Walter Highway would have witnessed the frustration oozing from the screen as well as the uncomfortable nature of his presentation.  Of course, we have sympathy for Dennis Cudjoe, who is the Project Coordinator for the Project Implementation Management Unit (PIMU), because we are pretty sure that much of what he has to do is akin to herding cats.
Mr. Cudjoe put on a somewhat brave face but appeared to be as frustrated at the progress as the public is. He admitted that there are delays in the actual construction phase, but he sought to assure everyone that the job will be completed in a timely manner. One of our favourite quotes from the interview occurred near the beginning of the interview when he said, “The status of Friar’s Hill Road is as it is currently.”  It was a case of stating the obvious and reminding us of the humourous “Weather Rock,” which uses the obvious to “forecast” the weather. If the rock is wet, it is raining. If it is swinging, it is windy, etc.
The manager indicated that the major work done so far has been for the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA). Naturally, the work that APUA has to complete is underground and must be done before the work on the top surface and sub-surface of the road is started. Burying the electrical and telephone lines, along with the upgrading of the water distribution infrastructure must all be done in advance, so that we do not have a continuation of the frustrating cycle of fresh roadwork being completed, followed by a fresh dig of the road. That back-to-front planning has been a planning faux pas forever in our bit of paradise.
Having said that, we did find it interesting that the contractor has seemingly halted work and removed signage and cones over the past couple of days. Since the beginning of construction, the contractor, Bahamas Hot Mix (BHM), has been very visible on Friars Hill Road. That likely means that much of the work that they have been doing has been in support of, or on behalf of, APUA. Can it be that APUA is balking at paying the company for work done and therefore the company has halted work, as is being whispered on the street?
We found it strange that while the manager indicated that the contractor had an obligation to keep the road in a safe and motorable condition, the Minister of Works also got a request that the road condition be actioned in light of all the complaints from motorists. Maybe it was just the way that he expressed his answer but it does coincide with what is being rumoured on the street. What we have heard is that Public Works has been asked to step in to complete certain works as the fallout continues. This is Antigua, however, so rumours should be taken with a grain of salt.
While we welcome this interview and appreciate the project manager’s attempts to answer questions regarding the road works, we get the feeling that we are not getting the full story. Mr. Cudjoe talks with amazing precision about the level of completion of APUA’s work (96 percent on Friars Hill Road and 95 percent on
Sir George Walter Highway/Airport Road) but is vague on the timeframe for completion. He has indicated that work will begin in January on the first part of Friars Hill Road from the top at Crosbies/Cedar Grove down to the West Indies Oil pond, then the contractor will shift to Airport Road and work on the segment from the Airport to Dee’s Service Station. Why? If the APUA works are nearly done and the surface works will begin in January, and likely take weeks, why swap from Friars Hill Road to Airport Road and then back to Friars Hill?
Just from the perspective of safe and motor-able, the lower section of Friars Hill Road from the West Indies Oil pond to town is the worse section of major roadway in the country. Why delay its completion to work on Airport Road when that road is nowhere near as bad?  The logic eludes us, but if there is a good reason, we ask Mr Cudjoe to please share it with the public and us. If the administration thinks that motorists and business owners are frustrated now, wait until you tell them that the worst part of the worst (major) road in the country is the last to be completed.
It would be good for the administration to release the details of the contract for construction and give us greater insight to the overall plan and schedule. We doubt that will happen as we are fairly sure that there will be claims of confidentiality, etc. Those defences do not hold up to scrutiny, however, because we all know how much the overall budget is. We will ask though, and we will see if we are right.

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