PM: New Point Fortin highway brings opportunities for growth

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, centre, congratulates Works Minister Rohan Sinanan after the commissioning of Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin on Saturday. – Jeff K. Mayers

THE Prime Minister is optimistic that the long-awaited Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin will bring about bountiful opportunities, unlike anything that has been seen before.

Rowley commissioned an additional 12.2 km roadway on Saturday that will now be known as the Archibald-De Leon San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway, in honour of two famous Point Fortin footballers, Warren Archibald and Leroy De Leon.

The former Dunlop Roundabout was also formally opened and renamed Rogers-La Morelle Roundabout, in memory of two stalwarts, former MP Cyril Rogers and Siparia Regional Corporation councillor Sheila La Morelle.

“This highway, difficult and delayed as it has been, will now open up the southwestern peninsula in a way that nothing else has ever done.

“It opens up lands for housing, agriculture, light and heavy industry, tourism and general recreation. We anticipate growth along its alignment in such a way that in ten-20 years, much of what we see now will be unrecognisable.

“Notwithstanding, the attempts to deprive you of this project, this remains a defensible priority and I am elated that we fought the good fight, we kept the faith, we are finishing the course, not only for a brighter future for all the people of the southwestern peninsula, but for all the people of TT,” Rowley said.

The vision that the opening of this road network will grow the community was shared by MPs for Point Fortin, Kennedy Richards, and La Brea, Stephen Mc Clashie.

Mc Clashie saw the opening-up of industrial parks and tourism opportunities, and suggested the network continue to incorporate the other side of his constituency, in the Palo Seco, Santa Flora areas.

To those in the fringe villages which may be bypassed by the new highway, Mc Clashie suggested thae time has come for residents to be creative and reinvent themselves.

Now that the travelling time from San Fernando has been cut to around half an hour, Richards urged residents to welcome visitors so they can spend some money and invest in the borough.

Richards said future plans include a 24-hour service station and an administration complex to house all government offices.

Rowley, Nidco chairman Herbert George and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan all gave an overview of the construction of the largest road project, which spanned 12 years and two administrations and which was fraught with controversies and delays.

In a speech he dubbed a case study of a project where a government has questions to answer, Rowley recalled the process for the construction was initiated by the former Manning administration, but no contract was awarded, as the bids received were significantly higher than the engineers’ estimate of $3.6 billion.

Having lost the 2010 election to the UNC, Rowley said shortly after coming into office, “On March 4, 2011, the UNC government, through Nidco, awarded a design-build contract to a Brazilian firm, Construtora OAS SA (OAS), for the lump sum of approximately $5.2 billion, or $1.6 billion more than the original engineers’ estimate.”

All three were critical of the methods used to award the contract to OAS, which filed for bankruptcy shortly after signing the contract. This should have led to automatic termination, but Rowley said the contract was extended, the package reduced and important clauses removed to prevent penalties.

Upon returning to office, Rowley said 50 per cent of the money was spent, but only 49 per cent of work done. He said the Government had to fight in the local and foreign courts to recover the money after OAS abandoned the project and was subsequently fired.

He said the $970 million recovered via bonds and letters of credit was used to complete the project as mandated by the court in giving Government the award..

“We did that, but the OAS has not given up the fight, because of what the UNC did in taking out the clause, leaving the OAS with the legal argument there is no clause binding us to give up these bonds.

“Even the local judge overturned the arbitrator award. The matter is still in arbitration. The matter is still in the courts.

“So, if one day, some judge drink a babash (bush rum) and decide to rule in OAS’s favour, in this matter against us, all that I told you here, it would mean you, your children, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have to find over $1 billion to pay OAS, because the clause was taken out of the contract.

“So, while you are enjoying the highway, reflect for a moment that you may have to pay for it twice.”