Construction, Engineering & Transportation
October 19th, 2020
Writer: Sheldon Waithe
As the nation seeks to kick-start the economy in the post-COVID-19 period, construction has been identified as one of the primary factors, with transport and engineering intertwined in the recovery process.
Like many nations, T&T seems to have perpetual projects in place, highlighting the importance and dynamism of the sector to the country. Prior to the pandemic-enforced lockdown, State and private sector construction continued apace, the most high-profile projects being the Curepe Interchange and the Point Fortin highway extension. The former – a project highlight of the past year – was opened in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 restrictions, with the Government boasting that costs were cut from $440M to $221M for the road junction designed to ease East-West traffic woes for the ever-increasing car population. Prime Minister Dr. The Hon Keith Rowley also advised of a novel approach to the Point Fortin project, claiming that the contracts were separated into sections for each portion of the highway, “… to allow our local contractors to be part of the tendering process.” The completion of the Arima General Hospital in June 2020 for $1.6B, is the other major completed project, much needed for the borough and its environs.
The construction agenda for the immediate to mid-future includes:
- 20 continuing housing estate projects under the Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
- Chaguanas Traffic Alleviation Project
- Point Fortin Highway Extension completion
In addition to the cost and time required by the industry to employ new social distancing requirements, COVID-19 has seen the supply of raw materials decrease while prices have increased. While such ratios may be a cause for worry, entities such as the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association (TTCA) see the potential for the trade to become a key player in the economic recovery. Adopting new safety guidelines, the TTCA has produced a blueprint to enable the majority of the 80,000 construction workers in T&T to return to work, even if hours are reduced through a shift system to encompass everyone (https://ttca.com). The Association has put the onus on the Government to push ahead with State projects, to thereby create the residual effect for private projects to also restart; in their own words, “Construction is the fastest method of creating employment, in the shortest time.”
While citing that COVID-19 has halted the Toco Port project, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan assured that it will restart once the Government analyses the economic fallout from the pandemic. He also confirmed that the necessary applications for dredging, land reclamation and infrastructural works have been submitted to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), a factor causing major concern for environmentalists protecting Toco’s coral reefs.
Perhaps the industry with the greatest probability to change its practices as it enables the processes of the ‘new normal’ in other sectors, engineering in T&T stands ready to grab the baton and run with it. Everything from schools to supply chain management will require engineering to minimise human interaction and facilitate the new safety standards.
With a strong base from its industrial background, the engineering fraternity will be at the forefront for the implementation of greater automation, increased hands-off production measures, as well as the local manufacture and execution of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workspace. It represents a great opportunity for engineering to help enable the country to take a great technological and mechanical leap forward. Indeed, the Association of Professional Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) has led by example, creating a virtual APETT office to enable their members to carry out their functions during the COVID-19 crisis and “any future health or natural disaster which may befall Trinidad and Tobago”.
Though delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic, the big news is the rollout of the Demerit Points System in T&T. After years of consultation with relevant stakeholders such as the NGO Arrive Alive and the police service, and the digitisation of many departments within the police and Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT), the scheme is a major culture shift that will facilitate the adoption of safer driving habits and optimal road usage across the nation. As emphasised by Minister Sinanan “The system is not a revenue-generating one for the Government, it is about safety and how we continue to reduce carnage on our roads.” The implementation of the system in May 2020 was preceded by a year-long blitz of messaging to the general public, detailing every level of traffic violation and the subsequent points added to an individual’s licence; the number of points accumulated in a specific period could result in the suspension of the driver’s licence. Backed by a scale of considerable fines for each offence, together with 12 nationwide payment centres, the system is comprehensive and is served by a continually growing network of cameras across the main highways and roads of the country.