Let’s not simply replace

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Elections must be on their way. Just like you know rain is coming when West Indies come to play, you know that elections are on their way when roadworks begin in Antigua and Barbuda. So, get ready for traffic on the roads and on the airwaves.
Recently, the government held public consultations with major stakeholders regarding the Road Infrastructure Rehabilit-ation Project. The event was organised by the Ministry of Works and Housing’s Project Implementation Unit and the discussion centered around the planned work on Friar’s Hill Road.  The main focus was on the need to minimise the negative impacts on businesses in the area during the different stages of the design-and-build project.
As we said before, we like public consultations. They do not happen enough, so to see this happening before and not after digging begins, is a good thing indeed. We care not that we are congratulating the various authorities for doing what they are supposed to do; the mere fact that public consultations are happening is good and a departure from the past. These events and the ministries that host them should be encouraged so that they become the normal way of doing business and interacting with the public.
That short rant aside, Friar’s Hill Road is extremely important to the development of Antigua. We will go further and state that a well designed and robust island-wide road network is critical for the achievement of any significant economic status (think “economic powerhouse”). We cannot press towards these lofty statuses without infrastructure designed for our needs at least a quarter century into the future.
There is little to be gained by just patching what we have.  We need to have a master plan that is well communicated so that the people can buy into the vision and support it. Unfortunately, this is usually where we fall down and we hope that we will not repeat the folly of rushing to show that “something is happening” for political purposes and confusing that with progress.  
The redesign and rehabilitation of Friar’s Hill Road is but a small part of what should form part of our master plan for Antigua and Barbuda. But even at this level, the road itself is just a part of what should be a master plan for that area. What do we mean by that? Well, read on.
Friar’s Hill Road is a main artery that connects St. John’s to what is considered the northern part of the island. It is also one of the key expansion areas for greater St. John’s.  It is similar to Old Parham Road and Factory Road which both service the east. For years, we have seen significant business expansion along Friar’s Hill Road and there appears to be no stopping.
In that time, however, there has been little infrastructure upgrades and certainly none that keep up with the rate of expansion. For example, Friar’s Hill Road and the surrounding area suffer from extreme flooding with any significant downpour of rain. The drainage is simply poor and if there was any design behind the original plan, it was either poorly executed or poorly maintained. So, when we talk about the road rehabilitation plan for Friar’s Hill Road, we must talk about the drainage as well.  
We recognise that funds for roadworks are scarce but we need to start doing things right the first time so that we do not have to do them over later. Fewer miles of well-designed and constructed road infrastructure beats more miles of the alternative. We should also address other issues like the burying of power lines, the installation of proper sidewalks and maybe even bicycle lanes. These are just a few areas that should be addressed now, in the consultation and design stage, before we start the engines of the heavy equipment.  
Another good example of wider planning? There has been a suggestion that a parallel bypass road should be established to ease congestion on the main road. It is an idea that has considerable merit and while it may not form part of phase one, if feasible, it could influence phase one.
Our fear is that politics will overcome common sense as it has always done. The political need to show “progress” will trump the need for proper planning for real progress and we will get whatever is easiest and most visible. We are not saying that is what is happening, but if experience has taught us anything, and we had to bet right at this moment, we would have to say that the likelihood is great.  
Already there are many, who have theorised that the reason for the roadworks’ delay is to have it closer to elections. We can’t say that we buy into that theory but we can buy into the theory – no, make that fact – that failing to plan is planning to fail. Of course, that is all subject to perspective. Having a shiny new Friar’s Hill Road may not be considered a failure but we would have failed to exploit an opportunity if we simply replace what is there with what was there.  
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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