The sudden recent discovery of severe damage to a bridge in East End is a troubling warning sign that should make the government review its approach to maintaining road infrastructure across Tortola and the sister islands.
The underside of the bridge was so badly eroded that the road surface had started to cave in. As a result, the government issued an emergency bulletin on Saturday warning against driving heavy equipment across it and promising to start repairs immediately.
We are glad the problem was discovered before disaster struck, and that government is now addressing the issue.
But we can think of no reason why this situation should have been left until it became an emergency. Troubling questions arise.
Is there a system in place to check road infrastructure regularly so that it can be consistently maintained before it begins to fall apart? If so, why wasn’t the East End bridge flagged and repaired long before it reached such a dangerous condition?
And what about other bridges and roads across the territory? Are any of them in a similarly dangerous state? Has the minister of transportation, works and utilities called for a review of all bridges in light of what happened?
The East End bridge, after all, is on a busy stretch of highway that is used daily by hundreds of vehicles. If such a key piece of infrastructure was neglected, what can drivers expect of less well-travelled roads?
Even before Hurricane Irma, the territory’s road networks were poorly maintained, with quick fixes often employed when comprehensive repairs were needed for the long term. Irma, of course, greatly exacerbated this problem and destroyed miles of roadways.
Since then, a few of the most badly damaged stretches of road have been repaired properly under a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank — which requires best practices like tendering and engineering studies — but other damaged sections have received little more than patchwork and band-aid solutions.
Clearly, a comprehensive review and repair programme is needed for the territory’s roads. Unfortunately, however, funding for such projects is in short supply and the government is still refusing to accept the United Kingdom’s offer of a £300 million loan guarantee for the hurricane recovery. Leaders should access the guarantee right away, before the cost of borrowing escalates as expected.
The government should also review its road maintenance system and provide the public with a full explanation of what went wrong in East End — and what is being done to ensure that road infrastructure is safe across the territory.
The bridge easily could have caused a tragedy.