Councillor says: Everybody is crying
PORUS, Manchester — A councillor here is suggesting that the Government provide financial assistance for struggling business owners bypassed by the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000, amid a three-month extension of toll-free use.
Councillor Claudia Morant-Baker (Jamaica Labour Party, Porus Division) said while she doesn’t classify Porus as a ghost town, people there are severely affected by a nosedive in business.
“It [Porus area] is impacted negatively due to the inactivity of that stretch of road. What I will ask the Government as I have done in my capacity as a councillor, is to grant the business owners small grants to boost back their business,” she told the Jamaica Observer on Friday.
“They do need it — the bar owners, restaurant owners, market vendors, shopkeepers, hardware owners, small business clothes vendors. They are impacted in a negative way, so if a grant could be put in place to assist and I have been guiding persons to the grant that the Ministry of Labour do offer to business persons. I have been guiding people to try and capitalise on it to aid them to bounce back,” she added.
Morant-Baker was responding to questions posed by the Sunday Observer, following Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s announcement of the extension of the toll-free travel until March 31, 2024 on Friday by way of a media release.
Toll-free use of the highway was originally set to end year-end.
Morant-Baker said people in her division were anticipating a return of traffic for the new year.
“I have a bar owner who lost her bar to fire. She is building from the ground up and I know it is going to be difficult for her to get back on her feet. Many people were looking forward to the ending of it [toll-free],” she said.
“I know it is not just Juici Beef, it is the vendors, business owners [they] are crying. This is a serious concern for me where that is concerned,” she added.
On Friday, Juici Patties founder and proprietor Jukie Chin, said he “sympathises” with small business owners bypassed by the highway and affected by the extension of the toll-free travel.
“Business is slow, but we can manage. I am really sorry for the people who only have one business and they are struggling and are on the verge of closing,” said Chin, who operates one of his restaurants at Clarendon Park.
Morant-Baker said only a “handful” of people who use the old road from Toll Gate to Porus still support vendors.
“Some business owners have some customers who really don’t leave them out. Just a handful. The people who come to Porus have to exit at Toll Gate or go all the way to Williamsfield to exit. Many choose to exit at Toll Gate, so we have a little support there but people beyond that point, it is hard,” she said.
“Everybody is crying. Every single business owner is crying from Scott’s Pass into Porus. Restaurant owners, bar owners, vendors, even cosmetic shops. Everybody is crying,” added Morant-Baker.
Other politicians have mixed views on the continued free passage.
Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Rhoda Crawford said she “wholeheartedly” welcomed the prime minister’s announcement.
“I am very grateful. I have already spoken to motorists and some constituents. They are very excited and grateful,” she said.
Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Western Lothan Cousins pointed to the economic downturn being experienced by vendors.
“We have suffered as a constituency as a result of the free passage that has been granted to the motoring public, because most of the vendors along the Scott’s Pass, Whitney Turn corridor who normally ply their fruits, suffer tremendously,” he said.
Holness explained that the extension will give time for the completion of negotiations for the operations of the toll road.
“This decision is intended to provide more time for ongoing negotiations between TransJamaican Highway Limited (TJH) and the National Road Operating and Constructing Company Limited (NROCC). These discussions focus on finalising the concession for Phase 1C, for which TJH, the current operator of the Kingston to May Pen segment of the East-West Highway, holds a right of first refusal,” the release read in part.
The May Pen to Williamsfield leg includes approximately 23 kilometres of a four-lane, arterial divided highway on a new alignment and approximately five kilometres of the existing Melrose Hill Bypass, now a four-lane, rural, arterial divided highway.