Cries get louder for Troy Bridge repair
TROY, Trelawny — With the danger of their commute increasing daily due to heavy and persistent rain, residents of Cowick Park in north-west Manchester and Troy in south Trelawny are questioning the Government’s prioritisation timeline to replace a collapsed bridge here.
Since the Troy Bridge collapsed in August 2021, schoolchildren and other residents have been using makeshift methods, including a fallen tree and a zip line comprising a rope and bucket to cross the river. The risky makeshift footbridge connects residents in the neighbouring communities of Cowick Park in north-west Manchester to Troy in south Trelawny. Since the bridge collapsed, residents have had to use a 15-mile alternative commute for safety.
The residents told the Jamaica Observer that they have been awaiting word as to when their lives will return to normality and expressed concern over recent comments at the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) over the onerous public procurement system.
“Anybody at all who wants to build the bridge, make dem do it, because we need it. It nuh matter if is Chinese or Japanese, is the bridge we want and the bridge is needed… As long as dem build a sensible and strong bridge,” Troy resident Raymond Powell told the Sunday Observer last week.
PAAC Chairman Mikael Phillips, who is also Member of Parliament (MP) for Manchester North Western, said recently that the project “has really reached nowhere” despite money being set aside in the budget to carry out the construction.
“The Troy bridge [project] has now gone to the Ministry of Finance to my understanding, and…[there is] $3 billion in this year’s budget to deal with bridge construction. So we were told that money is in this current budget, but we have not even started the procurement side of it yet. If that takes 15 months, that’s more than a financial year,” he said on October 4.
Chief executive officer of the National Works Agency E G Hunter acknowledged the MP’s frustration but noted that the issues which affect efficient implementation of projects were not only in relation to government procedure but also takes into account the “inability of the marketplace to be able to respond to different requests that we have.
“We tendered a bridge on two occasions in the last six months. There were no responses. In fact, if you scrutinise the website of the Public Procurement Commission, there are no grade one bridge contractors. So we had to expand the category to include civil engineering…and we still did not get any response from the marketplace,” he said at the recent PAAC.
However, president of the Incorporated Master Builder Association of Jamaica Lenworth Kelly said contractors, for varying reasons, don’t bid on some projects.
“The bridge at Troy has not completed that process. I don’t think that has come to tender. We checked online and we didn’t see the Troy bridge,” he told the Sunday Observer last week.
“From time to time bids come out and nobody bids, it does happen — if the area is remote, it can be based on how they put the qualifying criteria… If you want it more competitive, then you open it up to civil engineering, and the procurement rules sometimes doesn’t give the agency the flexibility,” he added.
Kelly said contractors are at times left feeling that bidding for certain projects is a “waste of time”.
“Sometimes it is not understanding that if the entity goes to bid that process takes time and money. You find where contractors, when they bid, it leaves a sour taste in their mouth. They will say they are not going to bid on anything for [certain] entities,” said Kelly.
“You can put out two things to tender and everybody goes after one and ignores the other, it is an open marketplace. What happens a lot of times when agencies put out [a project] to bid and they realise that they don’t get any response, sometimes they will contact us as the master builders and then we will put it out and say to the members and say there is this bid,” added Kelly.
Residents affected by the collapsed bridge said they feel no comfort amid the continued wait and uncertainty about when the bridge will be replaced.
“Every time the rain fall the river rise and the two piece a wood weh dem put cross that the teachers and the schoolchildren walk on, as you look, water wash weh dem deh. You haffi go back in a woodland go chop tree again. Every day a judgement. From the bridge pop down a whole heap of things gone down. Nothing can’t come across, nothing can’t go across. People ago Balaclava dem come yah suh [Troy] and haffi turn back,” said Powell.
“Pickney a come from school come yah suh, and when the river come down a right inna the shop the shopkeeper haffi gi dem a cotch, and by the river fi draw a some deadly hours a night. We a wait too long,” he added.
Powell pointed out that three people narrowly escaped death after falling into the Hector’s River while trying to cross from one side of the collapsed bridge to the other end.
“Sometimes when rain fall, all people wi haffi put inna it, but dem thing deh a dangerous risk. Wi see it a come cross wid man already and one of the string pop, and a the mercy a God help him. A one man him have hold up and a beg seh him ago dead, that time the river deh right under him backside. Three people mi see drop inna the water already,” Powell said.
Cowick Park resident Glenroy Bromfield said the continued wait for a new bridge was frustrating.
“The bridge collapse two years now and we lobby for a new bridge. MP come around and talk and we hear that money grant and all now we don’t see any progress what they about to do, and we hear seh dem seh dem nuh know when we going to get the bridge, and it is very serious, it is very dangerous,” he said.
“When I look the other day I saw teacher coming through the river when it coming down. This road carry you go any part of Jamaica you want to go, and all now our children have to risk their lives through water. This river goes right to Black River,” he said.
He said parliamentarians should lobby more and see to the development of infrastructure.
“These people weh inna Parliament… Is people finger put dem there, not their educational background, a finger, and if dem cyaa gi we a bridge that we can get we produce fi go through, the same finger going to take them out. If the money grant weh fi get the bridge, so dem ago tell we bout Chinese and dem cyaah find people fi build bridges. So tell mi something, the places dem build highway, dem nuh build bridge deh too?” he asked.
Troy residents, Amanda and Samantha (sisters), said they have seen the devastating effects of not having the bridge.
“I really want the bridge. Especially when the rain falls, there are a lot of children who don’t get to go to school. This bridge gone too long,” said Amanda.
“I used to go to Santa Cruz regularly, but from the bridge pop down I haven’t been to that side, don’t even remember how the town looks,” said Samantha.
Principal of Clarence Brimm Early Childhood Institution (located in Troy) Pauline Brown said her school’s population has decreased by half because of the collapsed bridge.
“I am feeling low in spirit about it, because I am disappointed to know that the school year has started and we are yet to get any update on the bridge. A lot of children have not yet come back to school because they are afraid of crossing, and with all this heavy rain, it is very dangerous,” she said.
“I am feeling very disappointed to know that nobody has come forward to give us any new word as to what is to be done to the bridge,” she added.
Principal of Troy Primary School, Kareen Frater, said some students were still at risk crossing the river to attend school.
“There are about six children who still cross the river to come to school on a daily basis. We have lost so many children, because some parents decide to send their children to Balaclava for their own safety,” she said.
“It is not safe. We are hoping and praying that this matter is resolved in short order,” she added.
Over in Bottom Chudleigh, Manchester, yam farmers also appealed for a new bridge.
“We need the bridge, because now we have to travel far and go through some bush place when we could simply go through and reach St Elizabeth. It nuh look good fi see the people a draw the children in the crate to go school,” said a yam farmer who identified himself as Ziggy.