Thank you Diana Theodore! I’m writing this article primarily
because you encouraged me to do so by your comments on my
last article on the first anniversary of the Morne Sion Tragedy.
By way of background, Diana lived and
worked in Britain before she returned home to Morne Sion a few years ago. Since then,
she has been very active in voluntary and nation-building work serving on organizations
like the St Lucia National Trust. Her academic grounding is in Math and Science
and she is passionate about the environment. She also has a deep interest in our nation's infrastructural projects. Most of all, she loves the natural “beauty” of her island home!
If there is one thing that the Morne
Sion Tragedy has taught us, it is that roadside
design is just as important as roadway
design. Roadside design can improve highway safety significantly. The
University of Wisconsin (Department of Engineering Professional Development) reports
that "Roadside characteristics such as sharp curves combined with
hazardous ditches, trees and other objects are involved in 83 percent of fatal
crashes into fixed objects on local roads". With the Morne Sion disaster,
we can add cliffs to the list; and it isn’t that this category of risks was not
there; it was just that they are not obvious.
As you drive around
Choiseul, the landscape induces a sense of well-being on one hand and adventure on the other, largely because
of the nature of the terrain and therapeutic views it is blessed with. The peripatetic
cliffs might be the furthest thing on your mind because they are not apparent; but they are there like sleeping hidden
monsters of death, waiting to engulf you if you err.
Our infrastructure engineers have
perhaps not paid much attention to them in our roadside design, though. It was only with the advent of Lagan
Holdings and DIWI Consults that they began receiving some attention. We can now
boast that the West Coast Road - for which the Kenny Administration was
excoriated for cost overruns and which became the subject of a forensic audit
and a commission of inquiry - is blessed with state of the art road furniture
which improved our road safety significantly.
With hindsight, we may want to claim
that if proper roadside designs were done for the Morne Sion Road, then we
would probably not be "victims" of the 11/11 Morne Sion tragedy, in which 17
persons perished and 2 babies still unaccounted for. But again, “charlatan” ex-ministers
(like Richard and the compromised Guy) and their disciples like Rick, Tim, Sam in
the media, would welcome another fodder “gold mine” to excoriate the PM for a
little “cost overrun” meant to improve the roadside design based on the international
research which indicates that a single vehicle running of the road and hitting
a roadside objects or falling over cliff account that 10% of all accidents.
|TROU MARC ROAD|
Because of the island’s topography,
it is virtually impossible for us to have the luxury of flat roads. The West Coast roads are
riddled with frightening risks. The tertiary roads in Choiseul have even
greater risks. The Trou Marc road leading into La Pointe and Gros Piton Nature trail have 2 dangerously sharp
bends and if you err when driving on them, you end up careening straight into a
gorge or the Caribbean Sea below.
|TOP OF TROU MARC|
Indeed, there are many historical precedents
in that regard. Once upon a time, a truck driven by one Arthur careened over the
top of Trou Marc Cliff and plunged straight into the Trou Marc River. Arthur
A few years later another vehicle
plunged from the Morne Portalese cliff into the sea. Miraculously, the driver
escaped unhurt by bailing out of the vehicle and holding unto an overhanging
branch over the cliff.
There have been a few similar cases of
misadventure at the Le Riche Bend where at least 4 vehicles did not negotiate
the curve and plunged into the Trou Barbay River. In fact, it is less than two
months since a fifth vehicle plunged there.
The above scenarios may be considered as “natural
phenomena” for Choiseul simply because of our topographical configuration. The Choiseul
landscape consists of rolling “juxtapositioned ridges” leading straight into
the Caribbean Sea and our tertiary roads are built on those ridges. To the
unsuspecting driver or the driver who errs, this natural phenomena pose great
|THE NEW MORNE SION BARRIER SYSTEM|
A year later after 11/11, concrete
barriers and road signs have been installed near the scene of the Morne Sion
tragedy. While the effort is commendable, a few observations may be noteworthy.
Firstly, the barriers were erected only
after the disaster happened; and that’s usually the case and more or less done
to calm down detractors.
Secondly, attention was given only
to the Morne Sion curve because the tragedy happened there; however, as
indicated earlier, cliffs are ubiquitous in Choiseul, especially along the
coast. The top and bottom of Trou Marc, Morne Portalese and Le Riche bends deserve
equally urgent attention.
Thirdly, the barrier system used at
Morne Sion does not seem to be the most suitable for a couple of reasons. Among
other things, it is rigid (made of
concrete) and any impact with a high-velocity moving vehicle could be as fatal
as falling over the cliff. Moreover, traffic-calming devices to “wake up”
drivers to an impending hazard could have been installed as we approach the
|GUARD RAIL: IS IT BETTER?|
I would argue that a “W-beam strong-post
guardrail system” might have been the preferable option. They are semi-flexible
and designed to absorb the energy of an out-of-control vehicle by deflecting it
on impact. I don’t know that the barrier system made of concrete cylinders
would do that.
The University of Wisconsin found
that under expected conditions, guardrails
perform in three ways to reduce risks: (a) prevent an out-of-control vehicle from
impacting the hazard being
shielded, (b) redirect the vehicle
without allowing it to penetrate the barrier and (c)
accomplish its shielding and redirecting functions without causing serious injury to the vehicle's occupants.
I doubt the “fixed” cylindrical
barriers installed at Morne Sion met those conditions.
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