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A motorist navigating large potholes while driving along the Guayaguayare Road last month.

Lake Asphalt’s (LATT) wunder product known as Trinidad Lake Asphalt (TLA) is reputed to be the best asphalt in the world. TLA-modified asphalts have been used in European countries such as Finland, Germany, Austria and Autobahns.

Airports worldwide such as the former Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, Kastrup Airport in Denmark, JFK Airport in New York, Burbank Airport in California and most recently the largest airport in the world, Beijing Daxing International Airport have incorporated TLA in their runways, taxiways and apron areas.

TLA was also used on the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao bridge, the longest bridge in the world and in the Olympic infrastructure for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Despite the international success of LATT’s flagship product, ironically the country that produces the best asphalt in the world has the worst roads.

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj confirmed that TLA was also used to pave the roads in China, since he witnessed the mixture being laid when he visited Changsha city in 2019.

Citizens and motorists alike in T&T are complaining that newly built roads do not last and literally fall apart within a few months. This is in stark contrast to some of the roads such as the North Coast Road which were built by the US Army in 1944 and have stood the test of time.

Compounding the situation, there is a shortage of bitumen, the liquid binder that holds asphalt together which has halted several road repair projects by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure.

The closure of Petrotrin, which manufactured bitumen, has only exacerbated the shortage.

Curtis Seepersad, president of the Association of T&T Hauliers (ATTH) said the reason why the roads weren’t holding up was some contractors were not using the right ratio of bitumen with the asphalt mix.

Even former Lake Asphalt chairman Kuarlal Rampersad said not enough asphalt in the road paving mixture was responsible for the amount of potholes and roads falling apart even just after weeks of being repaired.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Rampersad said “Trinidad has the best asphalt in the world, it is used to prevent rotting, waterproofing and is ideal for road paving.

“Because of its viscosity and composition, contractors didn’t have to use too much compared to other countries’ asphalt like a binder in bread.

“Our asphalt, however, has been used in minimum quantities to repair our nation’s roads.

“What this means is with less asphalt being used in the road mix, the roads will not last as long or be as durable and will entail more repairs.”

He claimed that in some instances less than 15 per cent of asphalt was used to pave and repair the nation’s roads. He said bitumen, a by-product of crude oil, was being used instead.

Rampersad claimed that in one particular project, the incorrect ratio of bitumen, aggregate and asphalt was used.

Rampersad stated that the highest grade of asphalt was sold to China since T&T signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chinese firm Beijing Oriental Yuhong Waterproofing Technology Co Ltd, in May 30, 2013.

He added that when a road was built primarily with bitumen it had a distinct dark-black colour such as the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, as opposed to a road built with asphalt such as Rivulet Road in Couva which was grey and lasted longer.

Rampersad opined that the problem was that there were ‘some’ unscrupulous contractors who did substandard road works using a poor mixture of asphalt, aggregate, and bitumen to ensure that the roads didn’t last longer than three to five years.

He stated that if they used the right mixture the roads will last over 20 years.

Rampersad suggested that contractors hired by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure should provide QA/QC (Quality Assurance Quality Control) on the composition and ratios of their road paving mixes.

Sinanan responds

When asked about Rampersad’s claim that the incorrect ratio of asphalt, aggregate, and bitumen was used in a particular project, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan replied that if he had any information that the ministry didn’t have to send it to them.

Sinanan said the paving to which Rampersad referred was done since 2008-2009 and was still standing strong. He said, however, the ministry was more than prepared to accept additional information and do research into it.

When told about claims that the roads were deteriorating so rapidly because the right ratio of bitumen with the asphalt mix was not being used, Sinanan responded that the ministry used TLA, a much stronger blend on the highways.

He also said that the ministry also had labs which tested the integrity of asphalt mixes before and after it was laid down.

Regarding the shortage of bitumen, the quantity and cost imported, Sinanan deferred the Sunday Guardian’s queries to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The Sunday Guardian found on the World Integrated Trade Solution site in 2019, the top exporters of bituminous mixtures to T&T were Jamaica ($2,048.12K, 5,445,880 kg), European Union ($49.81K, 122,438 kg), United Arab Emirates ($31.57K, 24,675 g), France ($26.01K, 110,800 kg), United Kingdom ($24.35K, 11,590 kg) and USA ($3.50K, 1,000 kg).

When asked if the ministry would withhold contractors’ monies if they did shoddy or substandard work, he said that the ministry had a lot of controls and systems in place.

Sinanan explained that based on the type of contract, a percentage of the sum was retained until the satisfactory completion of a project, and there was also a period of defect reliability.

He said this meant that in case a contractor performed on a major road or highway project, there was a period of defect reliability if anything failed, and they were obligated to come back and do repairs at their cost.

Sinanan reiterated that approximately $40 million was earmarked for the repair of secondary, minor, agricultural and forestry access roads across the country.