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Progressively backward

An account of being trapped in the Bog Walk Gorge as flood waters rise

Sunday, October 07, 2012    

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AT best, the Bog Walk Gorge is a scenic journey made possible by a combination of nature and a remarkable feat of engineering — at worst, it is death trap.

Being a long-time resident of St Catherine, I have plied the Bog Walk Gorge countless times. I believe that once you respect the road, there is no need to fear it. I accepted that many times it would be impassable due to acts of God — rain, landslides, waterfalls, flooding — and acts of man — accidents, road construction, traffic.

One fateful Sunday evening, with this respect for a roadway that was built in 1770 (and no, that is not a typo), I called ahead to the Spanish Town Police Station to ascertain if the road was open before embarking on my journey from Bog Walk.

With confirmation in hand, I set out. Hours of thunderous rain had made the journey difficult, but not impossible. I, along with hundreds of other drivers, safely traversed the roads from Bog Walk to Flat Bridge and just beyond. Then, the long line of traffic simply stopped... for two-andhalf hours.

It was pitch-black night. It was raining... and there was nowhere to go.

At first, I wasn’t worried. Being stuck in the Gorge is par for the course. Then, with time on my hands, I started to think.

I thought about those behind me who might actually be on the Flat Bridge watching the water rising. I thought about the ambulance laden with persons experiencing a medical emergency that might have been stuck in the gridlocked traffic, now going nowhere. I thought about running out of gas having to run the car’s airconditioning, the windows wound up to guard against the driving rain.

I felt both annoyed and comforted by the fact that I was not alone. Surely, teams were working hard somewhere to ensure that the hundreds of motionless cars now being confronted by the swift-moving water would soon have a way out.

My mind turned to why we were all stuck. Was the road impassable due to a landslide? No. Was there an accident blocking the path? No. There was a locked gate trapping persons on a watery roadway at night for — did I mention — two and a half hours.

But, luckily, this is not 1770. So I used my cellphone to call the Spanish Town Police Station again. The very pleasant DC was forthcoming, “We are trying to find the key.”

The key?

It really is a brilliant idea applied poorly. Indisciplined drivers ignore warnings about the Gorge being blocked, get stuck and drain state resources for rescue. Why not save the taxpayers’ some money by installing gates across the road that can be padlocked.

On its face, a brilliant idea! There is even a precedent; remember when we had train gates?

However, unlike the train gate operators who lived in homes near the tracks to open and close the gates when necessary, the Gorge gate is locked with a key (by the police or fire brigade, I’ve never been able to determine for sure which) which is then returned to the station.

My experience is not unique. I have since found out that often, persons who live in the Bog Walk Gorge (there are several thriving communities), or persons traversing on the roadway before the gate is closed, get locked INSIDE.

Locking the gates without ensuring the vehicles on the river road have safely cleared it shows a lack of respect for motorists, their time and safety.

In 2012, a roadway built nearly 250 years ago, is the best of three bad options to travel from Bog Walk to Spanish Town (Barry and Sligoville being the alternate routes).

Several calls to the patient DC provided updates, “We have found the key”, “The key is on the way”, “The road is flooded so the key is delayed”. And eventually, “The gate is open!”

At least, until the next time, as we continue to move progressively backward.

I was overjoyed when I finally drove past the open gate and well-placed police patrol car at Dam Head.

I tweeted, I called friends and family who were concerned and I called the pleasant DC.

Then my joy faded. The realisation that the next time I am stuck in the Bog Walk Gorge the outcome could be different washed over me, much like the rapids I witnessed in the rising waters of the Gorge I just exited.

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