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Friday 19 July 2019
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Thank You, Suruj

Thank. A simple word, more spoken than practised, it carries vital civic and moral obligations. It simply means “to express gratitude.” (tautological, but so described in Concise Oxford). The official opening by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar three weeks ago of the $100 million Valencia By-Pass turned my mind into that very special human virtue — gratitude.

Giving thanks for kindness, gifts or services is more than simple courtesy or good manners; it is part, should be part, of our moral code. In public life gratitude seems to have a very short life span. Ingratitude is an ugly character blemish. So I ask, have you driven past Valencia recently? If you did, you may well feel a traffic nightmare has ended. A three-mile By-Pass network — with well-paved smooth curves — has been completed so that the daily traffic pressures faced by motorists driving between Sangre Grande, Toco, Arima, etc has ended. And thanks must be given to the Ministry of Works, its technocrats, PURE and of course, Minister Dr Surujrattan Rambachan.

Of course, we know it is taxpayers’ money, it took too long, it should have been done by a previous government etc, etc. But there appeared a well-focussed, deliberate effort by Dr Rambachan’s Ministry to have this much-needed traffic facility completed. And whether UNC, COP, NJAC, MSJ or PNM, the thousands living in the affected areas should be grateful for this vital East-West corridor project.

The $100 million By-Pass was officially opened on Friday November 28, 2014 by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar with Dr Rambachan behind her. The Prime Minister, with deserving pride, noted that “there were no cost overruns,” that the project “was completed on schedule,” that the five contracters — Jusamco, Coosals, Seereeram Brothers, Lutchmeesingh Transport Ltd and General Earth Movers Ltd — deserve commendation.

Now, I have good reason to write about this project. Over three years ago, in my column of April 3, 2011, I wrote, complaining: “Just drive through Valencia, from Sangre Grande or from Arima, and you will find no better word than ‘nightmare’ to describe that experience. It is a very terrifying, unpleasant experience.” I then added: “Prepare to line up in an inch-by-inch traffic jam…Now of course, other places have heavy traffic but the difference here is that this traffic nightmare is that something quick and practical could be done.”

Over those traffic-jammed years, I was puzzled by the apparent patience of the drivers, the residents, the workers who live in those affected areas. No tyre burning, no road blockades, no street marches. As a non-resident, I sometimes wondered if I was more concerned than they. In that same April 3, 2011 column I added: “When I was an Independent Senator, I raised this Valencia traffic nightmare on four separate occasions, begged the government, one after the other to deal with this problem. Last year, Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner paid a visit to Valencia and noted the problem.”

Indeed, Mr Warner did publicly respond to my column. You see, the nightmare wasn’t only about the slow-paced traffic. It was the ugly selfish, reckless behaviour of drivers who pushed their way on the grass, jumping in front of you — all this with you patiently in line. It became a jungle — every man for himself. So, thank you Suruj for this Valencia By-Pass. The main artery really was congested.

That 2011 column stated: “We know two of the major reasons for this Valencia traffic nightmare. One is the traffic from Toco, Sangre Grande and moving into one another, clashing at the junction. The other reason is the number of bars, snackettes, Royal Castle and other outlets, legally or illegally placed. So why not just cut a road, about quarter mile long, from Wallerfield to the Valencia stretch?” The recently-opened By-Pass — with three entry points — is much more than a quarter-mile. The network is about three miles, a scenic drive disturbed by exposed pockets of squatters.

Here is an amusing story. Around 2008, I informally asked a senior Minister in the Senate why a road connecting Waller Field to the Valencia long stretch could not be made since the bundle of bars, food outlets and street vendors at Valencia junction were causing such heavy traffic jams. His answer took me by surprise. He said even if a By-Pass were built, it would be crowded again by those same shops, food outlets, etc. So today, thank you Suruj.

The Newsday story by Ralph Banwarie on the official opening stated: “Maxi taxi drivers, residents, businessmen and other stakeholders extended their gratitude and thanks to the PM in bringing relief after they had suffered for 48 years.” (Nov 29, 2014) Having complained before, I also feel obliged now to tell Suruj thanks, even as he buckles up to tackle Manzanilla.

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