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Get ready, highway wreckers!

Steep Linstead to Moneague route puts commuters on alert

BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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THE highway wrecking service could soon be doing brisk business along the newly opened Linstead to Moneague leg of the North/South link of Highway 2000, which begins attracting a toll charge next month, as several vehicles are breaking down along the busy thoroughfare as they traverse the steep incline.

The complaints by motorists about traversing sections of the highway are not unfounded, as discovered when the Jamaica Observer made a recent test run of the 19.3-kilometre-long, four-lane roadway.

Officers from the highway patrol were kept busy helping stranded motorists whose vehicles overheated along the north-bound lanes from Treadways to Moneague. While the Sunday Observer saw several motorists broken down on the north-bound lane with its steep inclines, there were no such incidents on the south-bound lane on the day that the news team visited.

And although the police have reported that several vehicles have been breaking down on the highway on a daily basis, Corporal J Bailey of the Ferry Highway Patrol said that the roadway should not be blamed for the motorists' trouble. According to the policeman, who was busy helping a motorist to cool down an overheating 2000 Toyota Corolla, the problem lies with the condition that the vehicles are in and the speed at which the drivers are ascending the hill.

"The police car go up and down this highway on a daily basis and we don't have that problem and so the overheating problems that we are seeing are all related to the condition that the car is in. Also, people need to take their time going over the hill," he told the Sunday Observer.

According to Corporal Bailey, a lot of motorists were speeding up the hill, in the vicinity of Mullock, which has been contributing to the cars overheating from the added pressure on the engines.

"All cars that we have seen broken down on the highway is as a result of mechanical problems relating to the car and specifically a radiator problem," Bailey explained.

As such, the policeman is advising motorists not to blame the highway but to instead ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy and to ensure that they travel within a reasonable speed up the five kilometres or three miles of hill.

"I would recommend that they do not travel faster than 40 kilometres going over the hill," he said, even as he added that the larger vehicles like trucks fare better along the roadway but said that this is because they tend to engage a lower gear.

For now, Corporal Bailey said that the police is in the process of sensitising motorists who they have been stopping to help on a daily basis since the highway opened on August 6.

"A lot of people are now just testing out the road and getting used to it, so it should be better after they begin to understand it," he said.

However, some of the motorists who were seen broken down along the highway said that while the roadway is not entirely to be blamed, it is only suited for cars which are in 'tip top' shape.

Motorist Oscar Young, whose disabled Honda CRV was seen on the side of the road, said he had decided to surprise his wife, and take her on a test run of the highway before the toll charges come into place.

Young, who lives outside of Linstead, said he was on his way home from the nearby supermarket when he decided to jump on the highway to see how long it would take for him to get to Moneague and back. However, what he assured his wife would be less than a half-an-hour excursion turned out to be much longer as he waited for his mechanic to arrive to fix his overheating vehicle.

"Right now my wife is not too happy because she didn't know I was going to be doing this... she expected me to be going home from the supermarket," said Young.

He explained that he was travelling at no more than 40 miles per hour over the hill when he noticed that the temperature gauge was rising in the 1600 cc vehicle. This, he said, was happening for the very first time since he owned the vehicle.

"I don't know what happened because the coolant bottle was full and now its all empty," he said as he attempted to effect make-shift repairs until help could reach him. He was later towed off the busy highway by his mechanic. However, once the highway becomes operational, only recognised tow truck services will be able to engage in this practice.

Despite the hiccup, Young said that he would use the highway again as it is only a 15-minute ride to Moneague and would still be shorter than the narrow, winding and treacherous Mount Rosser route.

Another motorist and his passenger, whom he was transporting from the airport, also said that they were travelling at a moderate speed towards Moneague when their car started overheating.

"We were travelling at a normal speed along the highway, so it is because the hill is so steep," he said, adding, "the difference with here is that although Mount Rosser is hilly it is not a continuous hill, and so that does not keep putting that constant pressure on the vehicle for such a long time," said the motorist who opted to remain anonymous.

The passenger, who also requested anonymity, also questioned the reason why there are no exits along the highway or slipways for emergency vehicles to turn around along the highway.

"There is no way for an emergency vehicle to turn around until you get to Moneague or to Treadways and that cannot be right," he argued.

However, Corporal Bailey said that although there is no where to turn around on the highway, emergency vehicles have the authority to travel in the opposite direction on the one way as long as they use warning signals and proceed with caution.

But while motorists going towards Moneague experience problems with overheating, those enroute to Treadways have to ensure that their braking system is in good working condition.

According to one driver, he had to stay on his brakes for a significant portion of the journey to prevent the vehicle from accelerating down the hill.

"This road is really for people who drive stick shift vehicles so they can gear down accordingly," he said of the road which has 11 bridges, a toll plaza, brake checkpoints and three escape lanes.

The National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC) in response to concerns about the steepness of a section of the Linstead-to-Moneague leg of Highway 2000 said that the average gradient of the slope is within international requirements for highways.

Dr Wayne Reid, chairman of NROCC, recently told the media that the slopes on Mount Rosser were shorter than the continuous ones on the new road. Vehicles will therefore experience more pressure on the incline of the new road, especially if they are not in proper working condition, he explained.

Dr Reid acknowledged that the highway could have been constructed with a less steep incline, but pointed out that this would have come with a huge price tag.

"For sure, you can cut it down to zero gradient... it's just that the flatter you make it will make the cost increase exponentially," he said.

Another important consideration would have been the amount of land alongside the roadway that would have been wasted, he said, explaining that "it's not just a matter of cutting a trench; you have to cut to give you side slopes, so you end up with huge pieces of land which are then of no more use to anybody, because all they become is the embankment for the road".

The National Road Safety Council and the Jamaica Automobile Association gave the thumbs up to the new roadway.

In a statement Friday, the organisations urged motorists to service their vehicles so that they could be sufficiently roadworthy for the climb.

"Following complaints by road users regarding the eight per cent gradient along a five-kilometre section of the recently opened North-South Highway, representatives of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) and the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA) travelled the highway on August 21, 2014 and found no major fault with it. They are satisfied that the slope is safe and comfortable for travelling," the NRSC said.

According to Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of NRSC, based on their assessment, motorists with well-serviced vehicles should have no problems travelling along the new highway.

"We can assure the public that the highway is a good addition to our road network. We recommend the road in terms of safety and quick passage to and from the Moneague area.

"We found the eight per cent gradient over five kilometres quite easy to navigate, but also appreciate that vehicles which are not roadworthy may be challenged. The road is no worse than that when driving up Spur Tree or Winston Jones Highway as both have steeper gradients than the North-South Highway," Dr Jones said.

Dr Jones further stated that the NRSC is in agreement with the speed limit of 80 KPH of the gradient along the highway.

"The matter of the speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour is quite understandable, given the many curves and steep nature of the road. Going at 110 KPH as per the East-West segment, would likely result in more crashes," he said. "The continuous concrete median, which is also a feature of the new highway, should prove a great help in reducing fatal crashes. We were also very impressed with the new technologies employed to prevent land slippage and to accommodate the building of a major road on the difficult terrain. We look forward to the construction and opening of the other two legs of the North-South Highway," Dr Jones said.

Also present during the tour was Duane Ellis, general manager of the JAA. He, too, said that the JAA found no major fault with the North-South Highway.

"It is a tremendous benefit for road users, because it really does cut the travelling time. If we use it correctly, we will have a lot of happy travellers on that road," he stated.

Ellis encouraged motorists not to speed on the new highway.

"At reduced speeds this road will take us on the other side significantly shorter. I drove it at 50 kilometres per hour and it took me half the time it would have taken me to drive through Mount Rosser, so there is no need to speed on it," he said.

Damian Anderson, engineer from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the company responsible for the completion of the North-South Highway, who guided the tour, pointed out that the highway had several safety features.

"There is a 'climbing lane' on the left for slow vehicles and for those who need to manoeuvre," he explained. "Motorists who are not accustomed to this new highway should use the 'climbing lane' when going up the slope. When going down the slope, in the event that you having a problem braking or slowing down, there are two 'escape lanes' with gravel-filled 'arrester beds' to help bring your vehicle to a

safe stop."

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