Narrow bridges

Seaman’s call for safe bridges


Sheets cover rotten planks on the Marcel bridge in Matelot. – PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

The rural village of Matelot, on the northeast coast of Trinidad, is known as the end of the road, with its breathtaking scenery, crystal-clear rivers, nutmeg plantations, skilled fishermen and gracious people.

The community has built a life on the edge of the country, where the river meets the sea and, for the most part, has very few complaints.

Villagers have protested against the state of the roads on several occasions over the years. The bridge at the center of their last plea is the Marcel Bridge, which connects the villages of Sainte-Hélène and Matelot.

“Sailor is the perfect place to raise a family,” said one mother, who requested anonymity. She has lived in the area all of her life.

But she and many others have a long way to go to access basic amenities and to get to and from work, a task made even more difficult by the deterioration of the roads and bridges that connect the village to the nearest large town, Sangre Grande, located 72 kilometers.

Sunday Newsday visited the area, where resident John Lewis explained the problems the villagers live with.

“For too long the people of Matelot have been loyal to the PNM, and we want to know if they don’t have that loyalty so that the people here are doing the right thing. And these are the simple things that we ask – roads and transport, ”he said.

Lewis showed the bridge and explained that it was one of many projects that needed urgent attention.

“Only CEPEP works for us. Thank goodness we have them here so you can at least see the side of the road properly. “

But he said the Community Environmental Protection and Improvement Program (CEPEP) is only responsible for removing dense vegetation, but the area’s drains need to be properly cleaned.

“Right over the road next to me is a main drain. I cut the bush myself to keep it clean.

He said the Marcel Bridge, which has wooden planks supported by steel beams, both of which are rotting, has been collapsing for years, but over the past six months it has become a big concern. .

A driver passes an eroded portion of the roadway to Sailor. – PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

“It has been going on for a long time,” he said. “Before when this bridge was in bad shape, it was the villagers who took small pieces of wood to repair it, until one night a car found itself inside the bridge.”

He said that as the car passed, the rotten wood gave way under its weight, leaving a hole in which one of the tires got stuck.

“The police came and closed the bridge and people couldn’t get over it.”

As it is the only point of access to the village, when this happens, the whole village is cut off.

There are several other problematic areas along the narrow and wide road leading to the community, home to around 500 residents, which have been overlooked.

The village is accessible by the main roads of Paria and Toco where Sunday Newsday observed projects in progress.

Drivers should maneuver carefully along the road alongside the ocean and steep precipices, and for part of the journey use single-lane traffic.

Low trees, which sometimes fall to the roadway, and areas dangerously eroded by coastal erosion where the road meets the Atlantic Ocean are also major concerns for residents.

John Lewis takes a closer look under the Marcel Bridge at Sailor in need of urgent repair. – PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

Drivers crossing the road at night are not assisted by street lights in many areas. Villagers also complained about regularly losing electricity and internet connectivity due to falling branches.

As it is the only point of access to the village, when this happens, the whole village is cut off.

Since that incident, he said, workers from the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) have visited the area and placed thin sheets of metal over the hole, but it is still uncertain.

“You’re driving on this thing and you don’t know what’s going on underneath. If you notice, the board is making manure (rotting) – and no one is telling us anything.

Lewis said the sheets were put in place about a month ago.

He also said that because the bridge had deteriorated so badly, it had been about three months since Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) buses had arrived in the village.

“We are entering the height of the Christmas season. People traveling in volumes. Getting to Sangre Grande from here in a maxi will set you back $ 50, and sometimes you’ll have to pay for two seats if you have groceries with you.

“You don’t mind that the bus ran morning and night, but it was still an ease, especially for the poor.”

He said that due to the pandemic, the village council had not met, but there were still members in contact with Councilor Martin “Terry” Rondon (Valence East / Toco).

“What bothers me is that before the election MP, Mr. Rondon, Rohan Sinanan (Minister of Public Works and Transport) – you see them sometimes three times a week, sometimes twice a day. We want to know what’s going on, especially when we have issues like these. They have to talk to us.

Lewis said earlier on the road, between Shark River and St Helena, there is another wooden bridge which is also deteriorating. He said work was carried out in 2015, but the rotten wood was replaced with more planks of wood which themselves are now rotting.

John Wilson listens to his music while looking out to sea on Andrew Street, Sailor. – PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

He also identified another portion of the road that eroded, leaving only half passable.

“It was a little hole in August or even before that,” Lewis said. “You don’t know if people aren’t coming to supervise the work so it’s not done right, but that’s the end result. It didn’t last six years.

Rondon, in a telephone interview, said work on the bridge was the responsibility of the Department of Public Works and Transport. He said he spoke to ministry staff, who promised him the sheets would be removed soon and work on the bridge would begin, and he believes they will keep their word.

“It is one of the few remaining wooden bridges,” he said. “They will come and fix the bridge soon. “

He said the area is plagued by coastal erosion as the road winds along the water’s edge. The work to be done, he said, is an integral part of the coastal erosion plan for the north coast.

“Very soon in the New Year, we’ll be coming to do (more) work.”

He said this includes using stones along the road instead of a concrete wall, which will contribute to erosion.

Rondon has promised that work on the bridge will begin before the end of the year. There is also construction, he said, underway at other locations along the main road, including Breakfast River. These too, he said, will be completed by the end of the year. and similar projects are happening in neighboring villages such as Sans Souci and Cumana.

Sunday Newsday tried to reach Sinanan and SGRC chairman Anil Juteram, but to no avail.