The four-lane highway for the East Bank Demerara is a prescription for death and disaster

Dear Editor,
What is the point of holding public “consultations” if you have no intention of heeding the concerns of those consulted?
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010 a meeting was held at the Providence Primary School to hear the views of residents on the construction of a 4-lane roadway on the East Bank. As a resident of Prospect, I attended, even though I was invited only one day before the meeting.

Fewer residents were present than officials and their attendants, who were attentive and courteous and accompanied with microphones and recording equipment. A presiding young lady, dignified and articulate, announced she was a social scientist. They also showed us maps of what they had already decided the road would look like and then kindly asked for our views. When I expressed the misgiving that we were there just to go through the motions, the dignified articulate social scientist assured me by gesture to the contrary.

In view of what appears to be happening I now make public my statement, which was applauded by residents at the meeting. It is roughly as follows:

The 4-way roadway proposed for the East Bank of Demerara is a prescription for death and disaster.
It will provide more scope for indulging those ingrained atrocious tendencies witnessed every day by residents – speeding, dangerous overtaking, driving with one hand on the beer bottle, fantasizing at the wheel to the blast of soca and chutney, polluting the countryside, and murdering the peace and tranquillity of the villages.

The level of dust pollution is already intolerable. My books, papers, furniture, mats, floor, all have to be frequently dusted or wiped, often twice per week. This is even if I keep one front window open. What is the consequence of this pollution for babies whose parents cannot seal up their homes and afford air conditioning? And what will happen when the flow of traffic is multiplied?

Along with dust pollution there is noise pollution. There is also the pollution of smoke and fumes and their invisible noxious contents.
Huge laden trucks, some monstrously huge, thunder along at all hours, belching out smoke and dust and noise and shaking homes to their foundations. Once past the police at Providence, they fly away at furious speeds.

Within months of the recent commissioning of the street lights on the East Bank a vehicle crashed into a pole to the south of my home. The impact was such that the lamp fell off and the pole slanted. A long splinter still grimly hangs on. Shortly after, another vehicle demolished the bridge of my neighbour to the north, ending up in the trench. Miraculously, no life was lost. Not so long ago, a DDL truck ran off the road, knocked down my neighbour’s fence, raced across his yard and headed towards my home. Disaster was averted only by the massive trunk of a large tree, which it tilted dangerously. Around this same time a minibus sped off the road and halted in the “four-foot,” after crashing into my bridge and sending boards, splinters and glass flying.

These several incidents, culled from one resident’s experience alone, are reminders of a feature of our society, namely its culture of lawlessness, which is acted out on the roads and with which the police, for whatever reason, are unable to cope effectively. There is no indication that matters will improve in the foreseeable future.

Thus, given our culture of lawlessness, current tendencies will multiply following road expansion.
Furthermore, widening the road to the west will increase the probability of a particular set of perils. When one of those tall, monstrously huge trucks keels over, or runs into a house in the middle of the night, what will happen to inmates in their sleep?  A word about the psychological consequences of change, of which the road expansion project is but an instance. Changes, even desirable ones, frequently generate stress, tension, disorientation and displacement. When the volume and velocity of change overwhelm a community’s capacity to accommodate, when its threshold of tolerance is exceeded, what are the psychological consequences? How are they expressed? Crimes hitherto unheard of or rare in this country are now on the rise. Day after day the front pages of the press scream with blood and tears. Perhaps some of these things have to do with inflicting changes upon communities without their consent.

Finally, some of the dangers noted above can be avoided by building a new road about a mile to the east of the existing one – if the real aim is to relieve congestion and not to chalk up another quick plus on somebody’s CV.

Yours faithfully,
M Gopal

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