North-South toll blow

North-South toll blow

Only a handful of motorists now using Ferry to Ocho Rios roadway

Deputy News Editor

Sunday, March 29, 2020

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As the fallout from the deadly coronavirus continues to be felt across Jamaica, operators of the north-south leg of Highway 2000 are feeling the debilitating effects of the disease, with traffic literally non-existent on the cross-island roadway.

According to a source who requested anonymity, since early March, traffic on the highway that links the capital city Kingston to the island's north coast has fallen off dramatically, with almost no vehicles using it last week.

“We have only about 20 cars,” the source told the Jamaica Observer on Friday afternoon. Traffic in less dramatic times average about 1,000 vehicles per day, the source said.

Jamaica North South Highway Company, an affiliate of Chinese real estate development outfit China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), operates the toll road in an arrangement with the Jamaica Government.

Early this year, in response to the COVID-19 disease spreading across the globe, the Government of Jamaica instituted measures such as the closing of schools and a restriction on non-essential activities. And Jamaica, on March 10, confirmed the island's first case of coronavirus disease occurring in Bull Bay, St Andrew.

The patient was a Jamaican woman who had travelled from the United Kingdom. She arrived in the island on March 4, presented to the public health system on March 9 and was placed in isolation, the Ministry of Health and Wellness said in a report.

The patient's infection was travel-related, the ministry said, adding that quarantine of the Bull Bay area was taken to prevent the risk of community spread. At the same time, public gatherings and non-essential travel were discouraged.

After Jamaica's first coronavirus death was confirmed on March 18 the measures were intensified to include the closing of ports, effectively shutting down the tourism industry, the life blood of the island's north coast.

Commercial activity, where possible, have now been virtually transferred online reducing the need to physically travel in order to get things done.

The North-South Highway was opened in 2016 and motorists have long complained that the fees to use the toll road are too high.

To travel from Caymanas off the Mandela Highway in St Catherine, at the start, to Angels also in St Catherine, costs $200 for a classone vehicle (motor cars) an SUV or a pick-up pays $350 while a truck costs $600 for the same distance.

From Caymanas to Mammee Bay at the end of the highway in St Ann the cost for a motor car is $1,400, an SUV costs $2,600 while a truck costs $4,200.

With the concern of coronavirus infection and Government's edict of 'physical distancing' added to the mix, it appears that motorists are staying put or simply avoiding the highway.

CHEC was responsible for building, operating, and maintaining the highway as a toll road for 50 years, at which time ownership and responsibility would be handed over to the Jamaica Government.

CHEC spent some US$700 million to develop the highway, according to Jamaica Government data. In order for CHEC to recuperate its investment within the time frame, it was agreed that Jamaica would transfer some 1,200 acres of land along the corridor, to CHEC, which would develop these lands into commercial centres, housing schemes and hotel properties to enhance its cost recovery.

Now, with the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic it is uncertain how the Chinese recovery arrangement will be affected, if at all.

Meanwhile, as local motor vehicle travel contracts, imposed international restrictions remain in place, with three countries now added to the original list of five (China, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, and Iran) previously made public. The restrictions now include Spain, France and Germany, the health ministry said.

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