MANAGERS of the tolled motorway Jamaica Infrastructure Operators will, as of now, use plastic for signs on the highway as opposed to aluminium according to current practice.
The shift, a highly-placed representative of the company told the Jamaica Observer, is in the hopes of averting pilferage, ostensibly to fuel the metal trade.
"From here on out, where it is practicable, we will be using PVC," said the JIO employee who asked not to identified for this article given the present tug-of-war between traders and Government.
The company erected its first PVC signs about a year and a half ago at the Hill Run Interchange which connects Spanish Town to the Clarendon leg of Highway 2000. Today, at least 15 more are on order to replace those at the Spanish Town roundabout and the said highway interchange which went missing about three weeks ago. They appear to have been sawed off their posts, which the source said will also be fair game for the culprits.
They include "no right turn", "no left turn", "slow", and "stop" signs, and the employee believes they are intended for the international metals market.
The Jamaica Labour Party administration shut down the scrap metal trade last year in the wake of rampant theft of material that were not scrap, but pieces that were in-use in households, heritage sites, and corporate bodies. The theft was estimated to have cost over $1 billion.
The new People's National Party Government recently signalled its intention to re-introduce the trade, but only under certain conditions, one of which is that traders operate from a central processing and loading site. The fraternity has instead lobbied for the use of multiple sites, which government is now assessing for suitability.
Within days of that announcement, the JIO employee said, 15 signs with various directions it had erected near the Spanish Town toll plaza disappeared overnight.
"Just before the trade was banned we decided to go with PVC, but when the ban came into effect the stealing stopped so we felt safe," the source said.
"But within a week of government announcing that it would restart the programme, all the signs went missing so it's like they are stockpiling them... I think they have exhausted the legitimate scrap metals so what is the source now?
Replacing one sign costs the agency anywhere between $40,000 and $400,000 depending on how much retroreflective sheeting — the material that reflects light from vehicle headlights to the driver so that the sign is visible at nights — is required. The size of the sign and the amount of graphics are also considered.
"It's not so much the metal that's important, it's the sign face. It's a highly reflective material and it is most expensive," the JIO staffer said.
The source acknowledged that while PVC is less attractive to thieves, it has its shortcomings.
"The problem with PVC is that at certain times of the year we have illicit fires in the canefields and if it comes close it will burn the signs, so we will not be putting any in those areas," the rep said.