We received the following from John Whittingham, which we print without change. Take it away, Mr. Whittingham…
MR. RALPH WILLIAMS WROTE:
QUOTE. “I was appalled yesterday to discover that senior members of BAPE designed the aspects of the expansion to the ABC highway that other members have criticized on the internet and in press advertisements in Barbados without first seeking to discover the details of the designs done from their fellow members of BARL. It is true that a house divided against itself cannot stand. BAPE is a divided house so there is little wonder that the Government and Ministry treat us with such contempt. In the mad rush of some of our members to incite public condemnation of a major public project for reasons best known to themselves, they seek to discredit fellow members of BAPE without so much as a meeting of minds to try to understand the designs done. A sad day for BAPE to be sure. I will choose to live in hope that there will be more unity among the members of our profession.” UNQUOTE
I must confess to a mixture of amusement and sorrow when I view the twists and turns the flyover saga has taken. Mr. Williams now says he is appalled at the apparent disunity among the members of BAPE and another organisation called BARL, which I do not know. (Barbados Association of Repetitive Liars?) Actually, it is incumbent on engineers who value their professional integrity to criticise bad or dangerous work. BAPE is doing its job.
Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why the public ought to be very concerned about the flyover project. The public image Mr. Williams is trying to project is that he doesn’t know what they are, but this is nothing if not disingenuous, so perhaps he would appreciate a helping hand.
First off, the flyovers are the most expensive and extravagant “solution” to the problems of the ABC Highway. They have not been tried on this scale before and therefore the actual results of the work can only be conjectural. Also, I hear about traffic studies but the studies I would have done (in my ignorance) have clearly not been done, and this leaves me with an uneasy feeling about the outcome of this “major public project.”
Secondly, while Glyne Clarke is not an intellect to be reckoned with in traffic terms the Prime Minister has an advanced degree in Economics and in his capacity of Prime Minister he owes the public a duty to manage the financial affairs of the country prudently and with a proper regard for value received. Moreover, he is the Prime or No.1 Minister and his duties extend beyond economic and financial management to include evaluations of the impact of the policies of his Ministers and the Government in general on the country at large. This includes impacts on the environment, both physical and visual, and evaluations of the opportunity costs/benefits of any project on, say, the provision of low-income housing and improved medical care. The flyovers are a huge waste of money, better spent improving the lot of the poor black Barbadian.
On the technical issues that have rightly attracted the attention of the BAPE let this be said. Those sections of highway I have looked at in depth suggest a lack of awareness of the operational dangers that may affect this design of highway. I do not know who Mr. Williams and his fellows hired to do the design of the highway cross sections, medians and drainage, but they should re-examine their design criteria.
When highway expansion is contemplated, for example, as in our case, from two lanes to four, the standard procedure is to add lanes: first two, to make four, and if this does not suffice, then two more and so on up to a suggested maximum of eight. This is clearly spelt out in” Fundamentals of Traffic Engineering” by Homburger, Hall, Reilly and Sullivan, 15th Edition, put out by the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Berkeley. I mention this because Ms. Cheryl Bennett-Inniss claims to have a Masters degree in Traffic or Transportation Engineering from Berkeley. Evidently she places no value on the instruction she may have received there. I would have thought that the Minister would have been guided by her presumed expertise. Or was he?
On the merits and demerits of the flyovers let me conjure up a hypothetical but likely situation. The flyovers basically take two fast lanes right along the existing highway. There are two outside lanes (presumably lower speed lanes) at ground level, which work together with the overhead lanes. In the year 2012 it is found that the traffic on one of the flyovers has exceeded the design capacity. What do we do? Cantilever off an extra lane or lanes? Are the foundations for the piers carrying the flyovers designed to accept such a load increase? What about the merge/diverge manoeuvres at the entry and exit lanes, now two and two instead of one and one?
The standard design criteria for this class of “highway” call for level grades, and where not possible, easy grades. Specifically, switchback or roller-coaster type configurations are to be avoided. Yet this is precisely the configuration Mr. Williams is recommending. I am not going to try and educate either Mr. Williams or his colleagues in this enterprise, and heaven forfend I should attempt to change the minds of any Government Minister or engineer. But poor black Barbadians will pay the price in wear and tear, gasoline taxes, accidents and delays.
The great virtue of simply widening the highway at ground level is that it confers great flexibility on the design. It is easy to add lanes or otherwise modify intersection layout, whereas the flyovers are basically fixed by design and impossible to modify except at great cost.
On the topic of price, the Government seems to have really goofed. The contract has risen in cost from a ludicrous quoted (in the press) price of US$60 million to US$180 million. Didn’t the Government negotiators read the contract before they signed it? This is a disgrace, but who will take on the Government? The BAPE is trying manfully to do so but Mr. Williams is doing his best to deflect the criticism. Has Mr. Williams a financial stake in the contract?
Mr. Williams theme song is that traffic lights do not work. Let me state the case. They were badly planned, poorly installed and the maintenance was execrable. What was wanted was proper design, installation to high standards and vigilant maintenance. This is the story of Barbados. If it is dialysis machines, X-ray equipment or electrocardiographs the Government does not seem able to cope. To give you an example, in the City of Metropolitan Toronto there were, when I left, about 3000 traffic lights. If any one malfunctions there is a crew on to it within less than an hour. Now that is a responsible Government and decent maintenance. Barbados can only dream.
It is curious that the political opposition, the Democratic Labour Party, has not uttered a single word of criticism of this project. So Barbadians have a choice, at the next election, between the infelicities of the BLP and the astonishing indifference of the DLP. Talk about a rock and a hard place!
I am sure Mr. Williams will try as hard as he can to denigrate me. Let me just say that there is no foreseeable circumstance under which this or any Government would deal with me, so I have nothing to lose or gain by focussing objective criticism on this project. So Mr. Williams can forget suggesting that I seek gain from this. But I consider it a sad day for Barbados when a foreign born white engineer is the one willing to carry the fight against the ethical and budgetary infelicities of the Government.
But this is Barbados.
John W. Whittingham, P. Eng