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Major Road Construction underway
Jamaica’s National Works Agency (NWA) is in the middle of a massive road construction project across the Corporate Area and parts of St. Catherine. Major road works started in 2013 and will continue until December 2019.
This road improvement initiative, the Major Infrastructure Development Programme, costs US$352.941 million or J$45.60 billion. The China Ex-Im Bank and the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) jointly finance this mega project. The NWA aims to reduce the travel time by commuters and improve the road network connections to main commercial centres and markets. Economic activities are also expected to boom after the completion of road construction.
Billions Spent on Road Construction
Road works projects underway are the US$64-million Mandela Highway Realignment and Reconstruction project, the US$56-million Hagley Park Road Improvement project, and the US$19-million Constant Spring Road Improvement Project.
Among other things, the Mandela Highway reconstruction project added two lanes to the four that existed between Six Miles and the east\west off ramps of Highway 2000. Plus, the works contractors raised sections of that roadway to avoid the corridor becoming inundated with flood waters. They also upgraded the Duhaney River box culvert and built a new bridge over the Fresh River.
Concerning the Constant Spring road construction project, work is being done to widen the road to four lanes. In addition, road construction is to improve the traffic management system, upgrade the storm-water drainage, and build two extra bus bays at the transport terminal in Manor Park, St. Andrew.
Meanwhile, the NWA widened the 3.6 kilometres roadway from Three Miles to Maxfield Avenue. The works agency is also constructing a double overpass. The contractors are also installing new drainage pipes, moving back the boundary walls and perimeter fences along the roadway, and installing additional street lights and traffic signals.
Road Improvement to Benefit Businesses
In the meantime, business leaders agree that the improvement of the island’s road network is good for business, Not only will the upgrades carried out across sections of Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and other parishes reduce the commuter’s daily travel time to work, but they will also improve workers’ on the job productivity.
Additionally, transport operators such as taxi drivers and haulage contractors will benefit from increased daily trips and reduced driving time. The reduction in vehicle wear and tear is an added benefit of these road improvement works.
While the business leaders lauded the Government of Jamaica for undertaking these road construction projects at this time, they lamented the inconvenience caused.
Admittedly, as Metry Seaga, President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association (JMEA) notes, the scale of these road works is unprecedented. Nevertheless, road improvements are badly needed.
Meanwhile, President of the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ), Hugh Johnson, also welcomed the extensive road improvement projects. He agreed that road improvement is a necessary move by the GoJ to enable convenient commuting and improved traffic flow.
Traffic and Business Disruptions
But as the road construction continues simultaneously along the Mandela Highway, Six and Three Miles, Hagley Park, and Constant Spring Roads, commuters find it tougher to get around. Traffic snarls, dust, and smoke are the order of the day. Apparently, the careful crawl among heavy equipment, craters, and work crew is a daily necessity while the road works continue.
Not only do commuters lose precious hours in traffic, but businesses lose customers who for some reason or other cannot reach the establishment by their usual route. Small businesses, in particular, have seen their sales dwindle and their profits dive.
To compound matters, the roadworks also disrupted telephone, electricity, and water supply to affected businesses. Without these services, companies curtailed their operating hours and closed their doors.
Other hazards suffered by business operators in the work zones include flooding. As the road construction progressed with disruption to the drainage system, wastewater sometimes flooded the business establishments that are in the way. Other businesses that were blocked from their customers experienced a significant drop in their daily sales and profits.
Admittedly, the mitigation system to reduce the inconvenience to the motoring public and business operators is not working well. Consequently, both parties must endure traffic disruptions and dislocations for a while longer.
Should Government Pay Compensation?
In frustration at the heavy financial losses, business operators along the affected roadways are calling for compensation from the state. According to the Minister of Finance, Dr. Nigel Clarke the government will not settle with businesses as they have benefitted from the road construction initiative.
Clearly, the GoJ’s hard stance on the question of compensation does not sit well with some business owners and operators along Hagley Park and Constant Spring Roads who have considered taking legal action against the state. According to the SBAJ President, these business operators have experienced an estimated 80 – 85 percent drop in business activity as a result of the road improvement works in that area. “…we believe that with this level of work – we should be compensated,” he noted.
Road Improvement Status
The good news is that commuters and business operators do not have long to wait for much-needed relief. That said, it may take businesses a little longer to regain their customers who were displaced.
Currently, the Mandela Highway improvement project is 90% complete. Commuters are already enjoying a significantly improved traffic flow in the mornings and evenings. The Hagley Park road project is, also progressing satisfactorily and is on target to meet its June 2019 deadline. The Constant Spring road project is also progressing with little or no hiccups.
Meanwhile, Rowena Lawson, the NWA’s Senior Communications and Customer Services Officer, said in a November 2018 with the Jamaica Information Service that the agency has communication mechanisms to address any negative impacts on businesses and the commuting public. She, however, reminded the public to pay attention to and obey the restrictions, warnings, advisories, and signals.