Letters & Opinion

Full Analysis Before Building Four-lane Highway – The Grand Castries Transportation Study Anniversary

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By John Peters

THIS month is the anniversary of the completion of the Grand Castries Transportation Study; it will be 21 years since its completion in December 1993. One would therefore strongly suggest to the Ministries of Infrastructure and Economic Development that they revisit the document, to see how the transportation model which projected traffic flow into 2013 performed and to consider the transportation strategies that were proposed.

The Grand Castries Transportation Study was initiated during my stint as Chief Engineer and remains the most comprehensive study done on our transportation system. The Report contained twenty seven (27) transportation options and strategies on the Gros Islet to Castries Corridor, Access to the south west of Castries, city centre traffic and parking, city centre land use proposals and suburban integration of the eastern communities.

It is clear to me that there is a disconnect with the present thinking on transportation strategies and the conclusions of the Grand Castries Transportation Study. Looking back, I believe the very long involvement of the then Sir William Halcrow and Partners Ltd in St Lucia’s infrastructure development, was key to their development of sensible and economic solutions to transportation issues. Very often consultants come in and present lofty ideas which cannot be supported by economic analysis. No small island state can be building tunnels for a few hundred cars to travel in a day; every proposal must be subjected to a thorough economic analysis.

I therefore wish to revisit the thinking on the Gros Islet to Castries corridor as was generated 21 years ago. The Castries – Gros Islet Highway is fulfilling two incompatible roles; it is functioning as a primary distributor road taking traffic from the northern area of St Lucia to the Castries centre. However, it is also functioning as a service road, servicing roadside businesses and major and minor junctions. The key to improving the flow on the highway is thus to first look at ways to reduce its function as a service road at the most critical point.

The Transportation Study considered Choc to Union as the most critical point and thus the development of a service road which would run from the Vigie intersection to the back of Rendezvous Hotel to the back of Peter and Company and travel right up to the Castries Comprehensive School. This would thus service all the business and residents from this back road and remove all ‘side friction’ from turning traffic. The upgrading to a dual carriageway from Vigie to Choc and improvement of the Vigie Roundabout were also proposed, both have been implemented.

The Transportation Study however did not recommend further expansion of the highway from Choc. The thinking was that the ability to create that separation of the highway being a distributor and service road could not be carried further along the route as there were many roadside businesses and side roads. The other constraint that was observed was that all traffic must pass through the city centre and this proved a major limitation of the effect of significant improvement on the upper sections of the highway.

With the above constraints on the section from Choc to Gros Islet, the Transportation Study proposed to develop a north -south relief road. This option called for the construction of a new north- south highway between Moulin a Vent just south of Bonne Terre via Corinth into Grand Riviere, Union, Balata, Guesneau, Trois Piton and the East Coast Road. The idea was to create an improvement of our ‘back road’ journey when there is a traffic jam on the Gros Islet Highway.

I am of the firm opinion that this is where we should be concentrating our efforts. The present emphasis has been on the development of a dual carriageway along the Gros Islet Highway. If we go from first principles then we need to agree on the size of lanes, width of the median and the width of the shoulders on acceptable international standards. The following are these acceptable international standards:

Dual Carriageway of 14 metres
Shoulder width of 2 metres
Median width of 1.0 metres
Assume drainage section of 1 metre

The total corridor width will be (14 + 14 + 2 + 2 + 1+ 1 + 1 = 35 metres = 114.83 ft). It will take a corridor of 114.83 ft to create a four lane highway to international standards. Now take a drive from Choc to Rodney Bay and imagine the land acquisition that will be required to obtain say 115 feet of corridor along the route. Every structure on both sides of the road will be affected.

Before we build bridges to accommodate a four lane highway, we need to consider the cost of acquisition of the land to build this road. Jesus Christ himself presented sound economic advice to leaders when he said in Luke 14: 28 – ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?’

So we need as a country, to sit down and see if we have enough money to complete a four lane highway. If we have decided that we have enough money to complete it then we have to ask what the net return is. These are the hard decisions you have to take as a small island state. It is okay to have lofty dreams and fancy ideas, but these have to be all placed in the crucible of a constrained economic space. Building tunnels under the Barre d” Isle is a nice lofty idea until you are told the cost of construction and the cost of maintenance.

My 2015 wish is that the Government of St Lucia would seriously look at the transportation strategy developed by the Grand Castries Transportation Study which provides for the creation of three new link roads: Moulin A Vent (south of Bonne Terre) to Corinth, Balata to Guesneau and Four Roads Junction to Trois Piton. These roads will all link to the existing network which will be improved. This is a very feasible option and will have a significant impact on our transportation infrastructure.

I may be wrong, but let the full analysis be done on the four lane highway before we proceed.

17 Comments

  1. Good comment regarding the consideration of costs of land aquisition. There is a certain property in Vide Boutielle that was demolished and was never compensated to date. Almost 8 years and nothing but foot dragging and lost files by those we hold in high regard who was given the authority to give a fair/ unbiased inquiry. that case study shows that the the reason the government does not consider the cost of land aquisition is because they just take it and do not pay leaving hard working citizens to suffer and fall into dire straits. Before any new highway expansions are considered the government needs to pay out business people for the property they took including interests for pain and suffering as well.

  2. I am sure the author of the article means well however I encourage caution when considering advise from the people who created some of the problems in the first place. Saint Lucians need to stop thinking small as it was that same thinking that got us in trouble in the first place.

    Sometimes people need to think bold. If something is wroth doing, it is worth doing well and half measures and shortcuts will only work for so long before it must be revisited. Even if the wider bridge is not used it is better to have it in place than not. If that same foresight had been used before then the land would have been available to expand the roads today.

    It is indeed embarrassing that a study conducted 21 years ago has to date not been implemented.

    1. We need to go all out and expand the roads and sidewalks and bridges, gone are the days for those narrow roads. Take for example that new bridge at Morne Panache in the valley, whose idea was it to elevate the bride and the bridge is too narrow so is the Piaye and Canaries bridges, this is 2015. We are stepping backwards, when are we going to start work on the Deresseaux bridge, I think it has priority before the Choc bridge. A lot of stuff does not make sense to me as to whether the problem is with the Engineers or the government. Why are the bridges in the North being widened and in the South are being made narrower? It’s just ridiculous and absurd what is being done to the roadways.

  3. But what about the land that was taken in Vide Bouteille in 2006 to build the highway and businesses were destroyed without being compensated? Lives were destroyed and no one comments on that. I totally agree with the comment about taking advice from those who created the problem in the first place because it is people like them that destroyed the lives of the business owners with their bad planning and not taking into cost of land aquisition. Very short sighted in their thinking!

  4. Since every structure on both sides of the road will be affected; and the land acquisition that will be required to obtain 115 feet of corridor along the – Choc to Rodney Bay – route is cost prohibitive; then, maybe it’s time to be innovative, and start ‘thinking outside the box’.

    Why not, for instance, let the existing structures on both sides of the road remain, for the most part, where they are; acquire very little land; and build an elevated roadway, with a handful of entrance and exit ramps, above the existing one.

    Local traffic, including school buses, passenger buses, and delivery vehicles, would make use of the lower level; and all other traffic would make use of the upper express level. In the end, it might cost about the same, or even lest than demolishing many existing structures and acquiring all the land that will be required to obtain 115 feet of corridor along the Choc to Rodney Bay route.

    Hey! Just a suggestion.

    1. Tom-Tom, very good idea, we need to start somewhere but my problem is that if we are going to expand the road from Gros – Islet why are building sidewalks near the Marina already?

  5. another timely article. Why is it that JP educates the public more about these matters than the elected politicians? I cannot really comment on castries roads, but how hard can it be to have a well tarmac-ed, lit, signposted two way lane around most of the island? Land acquisitions should only be limited to trying to eliminate dangerous corners. We’re not talking about trying to make it a race track.

    That is what the government should focus on first. Some proper tolling would contribute to its maintenance and security. This would allow buses to have quicker journeys so people could be less reliant on cars. Some additional structural changes to the current vested interests in the bus services would also assist people in moving around better.

    Why do you need four lanes anyway?

  6. MM, think. Please.

    Why do we need four lanes? Because you want your country, the economy to grow. The population will grow, the number of cars will grow and there must be the infrastructure to support that growth in the first place. With better infrastructure comes more investment, more FDI.

    The very reason for this debate is that the early decision makers did not see the need to have “four lanes”, as far as they were concerned St Lucia would have only few cars and the rest of the would get by on horse and buggy.

    Its time people forget about party affiliation; Red/Yellow/Green and focus on whats best for St Lucia. For the future for the children. It should not matter which party is in power if they are not doing a good job with managing the affairs of the country then you kick them out.

    The “Chicken and Rum” days should now be long gone and the “Mom and Pop” shop projects should be a thing of the past.

  7. I have thought about it. I’ve worked all over the world, and it is your thinking which needs a little more attention.

    If building roads makes a country grow then why don’t you just concrete all over it? The same thinking applies to the various housing booms/busts that occurred in Ireland and Spain. There is more to life than chasing the temporary GDP boosts which satisfy your credit rating with international money lenders. Mr Peters just gave you the best reason why it’s not suitable – namely you need a big stretch of 115 feet of road and all the associated costs of its maintenance.

    You are also making the dubious inference that more cars = more gdp boost = more happiness. Are the residents of california happy with their high gdp and gridlocked road network? The 21st century will be about who can develop in a sustainable manner. Just adding cars and people does nothing to improve quality of life.

    Sensible cities (and St Lucia really needs to be thought of as a large city for these purposes) try to develop a civic planning/public transport system which is integrated therefore reduces the need for cars. My point earlier about buses is in line with the more enlightened approach to transport. Why not have a well maintained ring road with proper bus facilities, with a regular and reliable timetable that runs late at night. The island cannot cope with cars as numerous as ants and 4 lanes won’t fix a great deal.

    I would go further and develop more around water taxis for additional travel options around the island. Then try and integrate bus network around those as well.

    The rest of your comments were sound.

    1. ” Mr Peters just gave you the best reason why it’s not suitable – namely you need a big stretch of 115 feet of road and all the associated costs of its maintenance.”
      —————————————————————————————————————————————-
      The above is a rather lame excuse for not developing the northern part of the island. For instance, China wanted to take a giant step forward a couple of decades ago, and what did it do? It dam the Yangtze River in 1994 at a cost of about US$70 billion; and in the process, they lost precious farmland, endangered animal species, and historical sites; plus 1.5 million people from over 1,000 towns and villages had to be resettled.

      Today, China is banker to the rest of the world.

      1. China has the resources, economies of scale and a political system repressive enough to subjugate the competing interests to accomplish such feats.

        I understand what you are getting at, but st Lucia is a gadfly and you cannot take the same lessons. Planning ahead is one thing, spending borrowed money on a white elephant is another. There are a thousand other things where the meagre resources should be spent before this. And it’s not blocking the development of the north – the island does not even have a good ring road yet.

        1. “… spending borrowed money on a white elephant is another.”
          —————————————————————————–
          A four-lane highway from Castries to Gros islet is long overdue; so to call such an undertaking ‘a white elephant’ is beyond me. Think about the emergency vehicles – fire trucks and ambulances – that will be able to make it through even in rush hours.

          A perfect example of a white elephant would be the New National Hospital which sits on top of the hill along the Millennium Highway. Hundreds of millions went into it that could have been better spent.

  8. Are we talking here about two lanes in each direction or four lanes in each direction?
    Land acquisition figure quoted assumes two carriageways, each 14 metres wide.
    That suggests the proposal is for two carriageways, each with four lanes. Will someone clarify please?

  9. My view is that we should develop our secondary roads and educate our people about them. We need to remove some vehicles from travelling the highway. Those inside roads such as Corinth, Grande Riviere and Vieux Secrieux are so rough even I am reluctant to use it most times. It is an extra maintenance cost to me. Note a St. Kitts politician once told me 10% of nothing is nothing. This he said when I was discussing with a fellow engineer the above topic and my view. I hope you all understand. St. Lucia will embark on a 120 million dollar EC 4 lane carriageway project. This is what happens when engineers sit and don’t find themselves in parliament but lave it for lawyers. 10% of 120 million is 12 million. Some people don’t really care about what we patriotic St. Lucians care about.

  10. Just a bit of clarity, there was the assumption of 7 meters on either side of the road as the setback to any future structures, that is the extra 14 meters. This was not clearly articulated. One is however very pleased with the constructive discussion on this important issue.

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