A January 4 HTS News broadcast featured Philip Jn Baptiste, clearly angry about the condition of the island’s east coast road. Describing the location of various potholes and faults along the road from Castries to Vieux Fort only seemed to further agitate Jn Baptiste. Acting in his capacity as president of the Vieux Fort Mini Bus Owners Association, Jn Baptiste lambasted the Ministry of Infrastructure for continued and prolonged inaction as regards road maintenance.
Being one of the most travelled roads on the island, it is imperative that upkeep is constant. Even when works do take place along the east coast highway, they are always lingering. Construction of a new bridge at Thomazo has taken months. After the Christmas Eve trough of 2013, the reconstruction of the collapsed bridge in Cannelles forced motorists to use a precariously constructed bypass adjacent to the broken bridge for months on end.
Mini bus drivers along the Vieux Fort – Castries route have always been open with their complaints, especially as regards the Millennium Highway. Recently, many bus drivers have taken to using the road along Morne Fortune instead of subjecting passengers to the ‘rollercoaster ride’ provided by the Millennium Highway. According to Jn Baptiste, bad road conditions do not only create discomfort to passengers, but cause the already high cost of vehicle maintenance to rise. Though understanding of the fact that work is to be done along the Millennium Highway in the coming months, Jn Baptiste found it necessary for some sort of solution to be given in the interim to lessen the strain on buses, bus drivers and passengers.
In severe cases of potholes being in the middle of a busy highway, or with motorists complaining for an extended period of time, the first line of defence to remedy the issue is usually to patch the holes. Patching, however, is not done in a manner in which the lifetime of the patch will be prolonged. Tar and stones are simply dumped into holes, in the hopes that it will quell the complaints from the various parties.
The haphazard style of patching roads, be it highway or byway, is one of the contributing factors to the present condition of the Millennium Highway, and dozens of other roads in outlying districts. Fed up of having to manoeuvre around cracks, potholes and broken roads, Jn Baptiste suggests that strike action may be the only means of successfully getting the bus drivers’ frustrations across to the relevant authorities. He concluded that bus drivers should ‘put down [their] tools and cripple the country’. The threat of strikes by bus drivers is usually all talk and no action but, if they were to materialize, as they have in some cases, it would complicate the ease of commute. In August 2017, Belle Vue bus drivers in Vieux Fort staged a strike on the basis of deplorable road conditions, and inconvenienced residents on a busy shopping Saturday.
In 2015, a Choiseul bus driver decided not to drive students up a deteriorating road to school in Dugard. Although this instance was a small scale strike, many bus drivers in Choiseul are wary of taking passengers to certain communities solely because of the Ministry of Infrastructure’s failure to maintain the roads. The narrow road which runs through the land allocated for the Sunset Bay hotel development, and which joins half of Choiseul to the other, has fallen into disrepair. No longer are drivers able to breeze through but must carefully strategize ways to avoid the gaping potholes.
Bus drivers have had their fair share of air time to complain about road conditions all over the island, but old news is still news as long as it remains unresolved. Every so often, a broadcast news item features shots of roads damaged by everyday wear and tear, as well as work by utility companies. It is expected that drivers and motorists will continue to lodge complaints as long as road work remains limited or non-existent. With unaddressed infrastructural complaints building around the island, Jn Baptiste’s grievances only strengthen the reality that not enough is being done to ensure the safety and comfort of Saint Lucians.