Planned road development needed

The state of Guyana’s network of roads and streets leaves much to be desired. It is not simply that the roads are generally in a constant state of disrepair, but they are also generally restricted to the populated areas, and there is little semblance of a road network outside of the coastal strip where the majority of the population resides. Indeed, a careful study of the layout of our road network, such as it is, reveals that our roadways are usually the last piece of physical infrastructure developed, often occurring long after the construction of buildings and other structures.

This phenomenon is particularly noticeable in our housing industry. With burgeoning housing schemes now the norm, particularly in the Demerara/Mahaica area (Region 4), one critical flaw continues to characterise these developments: the seeming absence of strategic planning and professional design of the layout of the new schemes, and the resulting haphazard, delayed or substandard installation of fundamental physical infrastructure, such as roads and drains, and basic utilities, such as water and electricity.

The approach to urban development or town planning in Guyana, as judged by its execution, seems to be that a plot of land is identified, and the bare minimum development works are carried out, mostly including a dirt road or a poorly constructed network of streets, and poorly cut or non-existent drains. Water and electricity are added as, and when needed, but many houses are fully constructed by the time basic roads, streets, drains, and electricity services are provided. Indeed, if any specific planning is involved, it usually centres on dividing the development into low income, middle income and upper income segments.

Attempts at zoning control are usually half-hearted and easily circumvented by those with the money and influence to skirt the regulations. The development may still blossom over time, even sporting impressive buildings, but these are usually contrasted with poor roadways and streets, poor drains, and with multiple overhead tanks exposing the community’s unwillingness to depend on either the central government or the local authority for its water supply. The constant trek through the community of sand trucks and other construction machinery as additional buildings are constructed, also means that what passes for roadways and streets are constantly being further degraded.

All of this points to a very reactionary approach to road construction, an approach that focuses mainly on repairs, upgrading, and occasionally, the expansion of single lane roads into carriageways – as occurred on a portion of the East Bank Demerara, and as is now being carried out on a portion of the East Coast Demerara. This reactionary approach means that road construction in Guyana rarely drives development, instead, road construction in Guyana trails miles behind development, and this absence of a sensible pro-active road network actually increases the cost of doing business and adds to the cost of living of the average Guyanese.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the “roadways” in the country’s interior. Despite servicing the country’s forestry and mining industries, and serving as a link to interior communities, these roads become near impassable in the rainy weather, and have destroyed vehicles, machinery and equipment due to the poor state in which they are kept, and have even cost lives. Regarding this, the Ministry of Natural Resources together with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission have committed to collaborating with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to “improve the intricate road network in the six mining districts,” as reported in our June 1, 2018 issue. However, despite the $2.0B budgeted, the works outlined merely involves repairs, upgrades, rehabilitation and maintenance works to be carried out on the mostly unpaved roads.

But for roads to drive economic development, they must be constructed well in advance, and we are yet to see a paved roadway built to facilitate a new development, whether it be a housing scheme, mining, forestry, port or other development. The inability of our economic planners to properly conceptualise, design and construct a network of roadways to propel the economic development of this country by channelling factors of production to the appropriate industries, is possibly one of the main reasons for our stymied economic development.

A World Bank study on “Road infrastructure and economic development” states in the abstract of the report, “Cross-section analysis of data from 98 countries, and time series analysis of U.S. data since 1950, show consistent and significant associations between economic development (per capita GNP) and road infrastructure (per capita length of paved network).” This report makes it clear that economic development can be spurred by developing an effective network of paved roads since road transportation is a critical part of any industry.

With the dilapidated state of our current paved network of roads and the extensive unpaved roadways in the interior, the government definitely has its work cut out for it and is playing catch up to bring the existing road network into a state of good repair.

Beyond that, however, the administration should dramatically change its approach to housing expansion, and all new developments should have roads, drainage, and utilities established prior to the allocation of lands to applicants. Lack of proper roadways cause unnecessary damage, and the repairs to personal and commercial vehicles are a significant drain on the economy, and a disincentive to productive enterprise.

The constant cheap fixes to the roads, streets and interior roadways are much more expensive in the long run, costing individuals, businesses, and the government itself, countless millions annually, and is certainly not a sustainable approach to development.