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'Mi don't think the road can get any worse'

Commuters forced to walk for miles as protesters block Whitehouse main road

Tuesday, May 20, 2014    

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WHITEHOUSE, Westmoreland — Students and hotel workers were among hundreds of commuters left stranded yesterday after disgruntled residents blocked several sections of the roadway in eastern Westmoreland to protest the deplorable road conditions.

From as early as 4:30 am, irate demonstrators used huge tree trunks and other debris to block several thoroughfares from Belmont to Whitehouse in the parish. The roads from Beeston Spring and Petersville leading to Whitehouse were extensively blocked in several sections by trees, which the protesters used power saws to cut down.

The police worked feverishly to remove the numerous blockades, but protesters engaged the law enforcers in a cat-and-mouse game, restaging the roadblocks the minute their backs were turned.

The police, however, managed to clear the main road from Whitehouse to Belmont freeing up vehicular traffic in the afternoon.

Some workers employed to Sandals Whitehouse were unable to get transportation to work as all roads leading to the area were blocked to vehicular traffic.

Senior vice-president, Sales North America, Unique Vacations, Gary Sadler said the operations team was mobilised immediately to ensure that Sandals' guests, due to depart for the airport, were comfortable and that the protest did not negatively impact their visit to Jamaica.

"It was a case of remaining in constant communication with the guests and ongoing liaisons with airlines to ensure they got home as speedily and hassle-free as possible," he told the Jamaica Observer.

He noted that it is a no-win situation that not only affects the south coast region, but Jamaica as a whole.

"The destination has had ongoing challenges with its reputation, and incidents like this trigger reactions we simply don't need. It's an unfortunate state of affairs, where residents are forced to react in this way to get attention, and we urge the Government to address the situation with the roads as speedily as possible.

Several students of Maud McLeod High School, Manning's School, and New Hope Primary also had to head back home.

During a visit to the area a group of students and adults was seen walking the approximately five miles from Whitehouse to Beeston Spring.

Meanwhile, near the entrance to the Sandals Whitehouse, where a roadblock was mounted, irate demonstrators vented their anger at Member of parliament (MP) for eastern Westmoreland Luther Buchanan for failing to have the road repaired.

"We have been taken for granted for so many years now. Mi don't think the road can get any worse right now," one of the protesters said.

Another protester, Robert Ebanks, who traverses the route daily, said the state of the road is too deplorable for him to describe.

"Mi can't describe it. It is very, very awful. It bad. It bad, it bad, bad, bad. Mi can't drive on the main road me have to drive through the bush from Robins River and drop out ah Belmont," Ebanks complained.

Renford Campbell, a taxi operator, said the road is so bad that even when he is asleep he is still has visions of having to skilfully manoeuvre it to avoid colliding with motor trucks.

"See the road yuh see we have here, me go a me bed and all a dream say me a slip truck. So we can't manage it no more. All now we don't see one MP, one councillor," lamented Campbell.

Janel Ricketts, community relations officer at the National Works Agency (NWA) Western Region explained that work started on the Belmont to Scott's Cove roadway, a corridor measuring 13.7 km in length, in 2012. However the project was put on hold to facilitate the much-needed replacement of defective National Water Commission pipelines along the 15km stretch of roadway.

To compound the issue, she further explained there have been changes to the scope of the project, which is now at a standstill.

"The NWA is now in the procurement phase and work will commence in earnest as soon as this process is completed. In the meantime, the NWA will continue to execute temporary reinstatement along the corridor to allow for a more pleasant experience for commuters," Ricketts said.

She said the NWA recently effected temporary repairs to the corridor, as recent as two weeks ago.

Ricketts explained that the project forms part of the agency's Transportation Infrastructure Programme.

"The rehabilitation of the Scott's Cove to Belmont roadway forms part of a multi-faceted approach to the rehabilitation of the entire length of the 22.1km stretch of roadway between Ferris Cross and Scott's Cove," Ricketts said, adding that the stretch of roadway between Ferris Cross and Belmont was completed at a cost of $497 million.

Attempts to get a comment from Buchanan proved futile.

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