Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 22nd 2015 Contents MARCH 22 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | SBG13
An ambitious highway project
that will connect several
towns in T&T to major
resource hubs is edging
towards the halfway mark,
with two sections already
The country s single largest public works
project, the TT$7.5bn (US$1.16bn) Solomon
Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin is
expected to boost economic activity by signif-
icantly reducing travel time and improving con-
nectivity across the south of the island.
However, progress on the highway has not
always been smooth, with challenges---led by
land acquisition and compensation issues---
contributing to delays and putting an end-of-
2015 completion target out of reach. In addition,
the decline in oil prices has prompted some
concerns about the cost of finishing the project
and how potential government spending cuts
will impact the building industry.
Despite the concerns, the minister of works
and infrastructure, Surujrattan Rambachan,
said he was confident that work would be fin-
ished by the end of the first quarter of 2016,
following an announcement in early March that
the project was 45 per cent complete.
Road to success
The Solomon Hochoy project and the smaller
San Fernando-Mayaro highway are seen as cru-
cial to unlocking a range of new economic
activities across the country. The Solomon
Hochoy extension will connect San Fernando
to Point Fortin along a 47-km stretch of roadway,
linking up the towns of Debe, Penal, Siparia,
Fyzabad, Mon Desir and La Brea along the way.
The highway will also create a faster route
between the towns and key hubs, including the
industrial centres of San Fernando and Point
Fortin, and the capital city, Port-of-Spain. Ram-
bachan said the project would bolster the
planned $850m methanol-to-petrochemicals
plant in La Brea, which is due to be completed
in 2016. It would also improve access to the
University of West Indies (UWI) campus at
Debe, and support local fishing communities.
Technically complex, the highway extension,
which is being carried out primarily by the
Brazilian contractor Construtora OAS, involves
the construction of several interchanges, bridges,
overpasses and underpasses, with a total of 226
structures to be built.
Construtora OAS s local superintendent,
Rodrigo Ventura, said the work had been divided
into segments, with two parts of the highway
already open to traffic.
Several other segments of the highway are
expected to be completed within the year to
provide a contiguous stretch of roadway from
San Fernando to Point Fortin.
Although it has faced some challenges, which
is to be expected in a project of this size, the
highway extension is already benefitting the
local economy: according to Rambachan, 1571
of the 1690 workers on the project, or 93 per
cent, are locals. In addition, OAS has sourced
around 80 per cent of materials from local
providers, which is double its contractual com-
mitment, said Ventura.
Civil infrastructural work forms a major com-
ponent of the local construction sector s activity,
supported by home-building, energy-related
projects and quarrying.
The construction and quarrying sector
accounted for an estimated 5.2 per cent of
Trinidad and Tobago s GDP last year, up from
5 per cent in 2013, according to the government,
and employed between 80,000 and 90,000
workers. Local companies are strongly repre-
sented in the residential segment and small-
to-medium-sized projects, while international
civil engineering groups have traditionally won
the bigger contracts.
However, local contractors remain hesitant
about the flow of work following the upcoming
general election---likely to be held between May
and September---with potential cutbacks in
government spending that will impact the build-
ing sector. "There s no guarantee of new work.
Although the prime minister tried to reassure
us... nobody knows which projects will be cut,"
Mikey Joseph, president of the Contractors
Association, told OBG. "In the large civil infra-
structure sector, the government always tends
to go the way of foreign contractors. This means
that local businesses get less, as sub-contractors,"
While the benefits of a mega-project such
as the highway are clear, it has also left the
government facing several politically tricky
challenges, including environmental opposition
from groups such as the Highway Re-Route
Movement (HRM) as well as lingering issues
over land compensation.
Nevertheless, the public has shown itself to
be largely supportive of the highway project.
In a recent survey, 57 per cent of respondents
said they believed it should continue, despite
a squeeze on government finances sparked by
falling oil prices. With only 30 per cent of those
polled believing the work should be stopped,
citizens appear to have recognised the longer-
term economic benefits that better road infra-
structure will provide.
Marco Binenti is Oxford Business Group
editorial manager for T&T
About Oxford Business Group
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and Africa. Through its range of print and online products,
OBG offers comprehensive and accurate analysis of macro-
economic and sectoral developments, including banking, cap-
ital markets, insurance, energy, transport, industry and
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duced in partnership with InvesTT.
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T&T's highway project reaches halfway mark
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