Highway 2000, the IPO — a testimony to the vision of Kingsley Thomas

Highway 2000, the IPO — a testimony to the vision of Kingsley Thomas

BY OBSERVER BUSINESS
WRITER

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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While the investing public ponders on whether to invest in the initial public offering (IPO) of shares in TransJamaican Highway Limited (TJH), the concessionaire for the east-west corridor of Highway 2000, it is useful to take a brief look at the history of the first tolled highway in Jamaica.

One cannot forget the negatives which were spewed on the concept when it was first announced in 2000, with several persons in the local media branding it “the highway in the sky”.

Some even suggested it was an impossible dream, never to materialise, and several other voices claimed it was a waste of money and that the financing of the existing road network was the option to be pursued.

Highway 2000 was even ridiculed by a major international funding agency which stated that Jamaicans would never pay tolls. It was also criticised vehemently by sections of the fraternity of architects and engineers.

Within the Government, at the time, many sceptics were against the highway. It was reported that the selected concessionaire was blocked from obtaining low-cost funds from a multilateral lending agency, which led the concessionaire to seek high-cost financing from regional capital markets.

With stubborn stick-to-it-iveness, however, and armed with substantial economic, technical, and traffic analyses which pointed to the viability of the concept, the prime proponent of Highway 2000 proceeded with its implementation.

That person was Kingsley Thomas, then managing director of Development Bank of Jamaica. Thomas was the brains and visionary of Highway 2000 and the individual who took the brunt of the ridicule.

In one interview, Thomas stated that sometimes he felt as if he was “one man against the world” in defence of the highway.

Highway 2000 was implemented in phases, with the first tolling beginning in 2003.

The operating results of the concessionaire for the east-west corridor, as disclosed in the IPO prospectus, has completely vindicated Thomas and has left egg on the faces of the highway's detractors.

For example:

1. The audited financial statements of TJH for the year ended December 31, 2018 reported net profits of US$6.35 million or $890 million.

2. Total revenue for the year was US$52.43 million or approximately $7.5 billion.

Additional information in the prospectus shows that the use of the highway has increased over the period since tolling began on the first section to 24.2 million vehicle passages via the toll booths, for the nine months ended September 2019.

So much for the international funding agency's assertion that Jamaicans would not pay tolls.

It should be clear to all that the implementation of Thomas' vision for Highway 2000 has had a profoundly positive impact on the development of Jamaica — reducing travel time between the areas covered by the highway, spawning several developments along the corridor in the form of primarily residential developments, and increasing safety on our roads. It has set a new standard for road construction in Jamaica and, importantly, was the catalyst for several major road improvements subsequently undertaken in Jamaica.

Thomas was chairman of the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC) at the time work started on the highway. He has served Jamaica as president of National Water Commission and as head of Development Bank of Jamaica, National Housing Trust, and National Hotels and Properties where he managed the divestment of large, State-owned properties which, at the time, reportedly had a combined value of US$100 million.

In addition to Highway 2000, Thomas was the driving force behind some of Jamaica's most notable projects, including Emancipation Park and the proposed Harmony Cove Resort in Duncans, Trelawny.

For these, we owe Kingsley Thomas, the man who gave Highway 2000 to Jamaica, a debt of eternal gratitude even though regrettably, there is no physical recognition of his pioneering achievement.


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