Hoping for the best
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — With the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000 nearing completion for an August 31 deadline, some vendors at the Melrose Hill Yam Park, still reeling from a nosedive in business, are cautiously optimistic.
The yam park, popularly known for roast yam and salt fish, has seen a decline in not only customers, but also the number of vendors operating there. Of the 12 stalls near to the entrance of the facility, less than half are operational daily.
Carol “Shelly” McLean, a vendor for over 20 years, pointed to an almost complete pedestrian underpass being constructed to facilitate customers from the westbound lane of the highway to enter the yam park.
“Our concern now is that the road will be open very soon, but our main issue is that we are only going to get one-way [vehicular] traffic although the road is going to return to two-way,” she said.
“There is a tunnel up there where the customers have to park and walk. The distance is so long for the customers. Some customers are complaining that not all of them can come out of the vehicle and walk, so our main concern is the tunnel should be nearer or they should have a drive over to come over,” added McLean.
When the Jamaica Observer visited the facility last week, a walk from the yam park through the underpass to the proposed area for parking took five minutes.
Eastbound traffic as of mid-2022 has been diverted from the Melrose Hill Bypass to the Old Melrose Hill Road to facilitate the highway construction.
The highway project — which will reduce travel time from Kingston to Mandeville and other points west — was originally scheduled for completion in October 2022. That was then changed to March 2023 before a timeline was given for January 2023.
The National Road Operating & Constructing Company (NROCC), which is responsible for overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Jamaica’s highways, had outlined last year that it set aside land to build eight additional stalls on the westbound side of the highway for vendors.
McLean said she hasn’t heard an update regarding those plans.
“We are not hearing anything about it right now. We are not sure if they are going to build the shops or not, so we don’t hear anything about it right now,” she said.
“Business is very slow as you can see. Nothing is coming in, because it is one way, so it is very slow now. We are looking towards Independence and nothing is still not going on. In former years, we could have stockpiled for the coming holiday, but now we can’t buy anything and the stuff in the market is so expensive now,” added McLean.
Another vendor, who identified himself as Andrew, said he was keeping his fingers crossed that business will return to its former glory once the highway project is completed, with the yam park seen as a designated rest stop.
“Since the project started things have been very slow, because it is one-way and the diversion of traffic going around that way [Old Melrose Road]. The income is very slow. I don’t know what it will bring when the road opens. They built an underground walkway, which I think plenty not really going to walk underground,” he said.
“The people who want yam maybe they take a chance and come underground. I think they should build an overhead bridge. The walkway is a journey, so I don’t know what is going to happen. We have to just watch and see. Maybe here can be a designated stop for the people who are going to take the toll for refreshment, because I don’t think you are going to have any other place on the toll. We have to just keep our fingers crossed,” he added.
He, like McLean, reminisced on previous years when business was booming at the yam park.
“For now it is very slow. We can hardly find the money to buy the stock now, but we have to just hold on. Before the highway project. We would have two-way traffic and things would be more active. We would get customers both ways. This is a season for the foreigners to come in. I just see one and few coming in. Some of them even take the old road, because the project is not yet completed,” he said.
“It is very slow even. Most of the people [vendors] gone leave it. We have to just hope for the best,” he added.
The vendors are also awaiting a $12-million project led by Ideas Execution — a construction and renovation business — to build a jerk centre and car wash at the facility and be renamed Melrose Village.
Chief executive officer of Ideas Execution Kevin Frith, who in March 2022 signed a 15-year contract with the Manchester Municipal Corporation for the facility, explained that the project has been delayed.
In February, he had told the Sunday Observer that the project would begin by April.
“We didn’t get to start. Two months after February, because of the intensity of the work [on the highway], it still wasn’t clear as to what is the position where the road is. I was there a few weeks ago. At that time the underpass was being done,” he said.
“I have requested a meeting with NROCC through the parish council and I am waiting on that to be finalised. However, in the meantime we have been putting ourselves together in terms of acquiring the containers,” he added.
Frith expressed concern regarding the pedestrian underpass.
“One of the concerns we had was whether or not lights will be in that tunnel. Whether or not there will be security, especially at night, because based of the length of the tunnel from one end to the next end, it might be a safety concern for people walking through that tunnel,” he said.