Sisyphus of St. Thomas
August 13, 2008
Of course, the bridge, like everything else here, is already politicized. JLP will want to take credit for building it and finishing ahead of schedule to score points with the masses. But once something goes wrong, PNP will get the blame, some of it rightly attributed, for their share of the sheggery that went down in the awarding of public contracts.
The company contracted to do the work is a Danish group, Pihl and Sons. Their specialty is in marine and waterfront construction. They have built bridges, but, from what I see, the quality of what they have done elsewhere is not reflected in what has been produced here in Jamaica. I have a sneaking suspicion that they were only contracted to build the bridge structure, not to deal with the other environmental and structural issues related to maintaining the bridge. So, is this bridge going to be yet another stick house built in quicksand?
Apparently, Mike Henry (Minister of Transport and Works) is also appropriately concerned that the bridge’s span across the ravine that runs from the foothills of the Blue Mountains towards the coast is insufficient. And I bet he is not the only one who is suspicious. But, according to the Observer, “[h]e was also assured by project manager at the National Works Agency, Linval Ramdial, that with proper river training, water should not be able to wash out the structure. This river training, Henry later said, was ongoing work which should continue into the next couple of months.”
Hmm. “With proper river training”; “ongoing work should continue.” Do we see where this is headed?
Wasn’t that work supposed to be integrated into the design and construction of the bridge? Have you ever seen this area before and during construction? If you have, then you will recognize that that expansive ravine is NOT simply a river; it is an organic waterway. It widens and deepens based on the force of the water pouring down out of those hills. We have seen the results of such movement recently.
And yet, to date and even with the new bridge being heralded, there is no engineering intervention in place to manage that waterway.
I see a picture of the bridge. In none of the media commentary has anyone – engineers, politicians, geographers, nobody – bothered to say HOW this bridge design will be different in order to accommodate the stressful conditions it will be subjected to – not just water but the ongoing parade of trucks! As usual, the tittilation has been all about building the bridge, drooling over the hefty pieces of steel, as if we watching pornography or is some ki’n a neva-see-come-see.
Not a word about quality.
Not a word about sustainability and how/whether bridge use will be amended to prolong its lifetime.
Not a word about why this project has been so difficult to accomplish properly.
Not one word.
We are supposed to just sit down and watch taxpayers’ money being washed out to sea, and then wait for when it will be time again to roll that rock right back to the top of the hill.
I have been fortunate to have studied about and driven across many bridges – small and large. I know a dud when I see it. And when I look at the picture, what I see here is a puny bridge that appears to be a sitting duck, ready to be washed away. Its design is not much different than what has been there before and shared a common fate, several times.
Despite what the politicians say, the problem with Yallahs fording does not date back to 2002; it dates back to the 1970s. St. Thomas people know this problem and know that the lack of adequate resolution is related to the quarrying that is going on right there at the foot of the river. A couple decades later, the bridge issue still an albatross around the necks of the people of St. Thomas. Don’t think it has been resolved with this new structure that has been erected. How much you want to bet that this bridge don’t last five years?
But, I, like you, will wait and see. I will drive across it in weeks to come when I go to a balmyard for a ritual cleansing in time for the school year to begin. I wish the entire nation could take a bath. We sure need it.