OXFORD, Manchester —Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western Mikael Phillips has reiterated his plea to the Government for urgent attention at the Manchester/Trelawny border, which has been without a bridge since last August.
“I am sending out a warning to the Government: There are people's lives at risk as it is now, because it is not like the river itself is shallow. It is somewhere where people have to [go] at least 20 feet down into the riverbed to climb back up on the other side,” Phillips told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.
Residents living near the border on the Oxford to Troy main road are using ingenious but risky ways to commute following the collapse of the bridge.
“It is even more dangerous because how people are transporting goods across the bridge, as the residents have set up a makeshift pulley system,” said Phillips.
He said he has brought the situation to the attention of the National Works Agency (NWA) on numerous occasions.
“I would hate for us to be told that there is nothing in the new budget year, since it has been something that I have been speaking to, nearly every week, to both the prime minister and the head of the NWA (E G Hunter) on this issue, so it is not like they don't know of it,” he said.
NWA Communications Manager Stephen Shaw told the Observer that nothing has changed in respect to plans for a replacement bridge.
Phillips, who is also Opposition spokesperson on transport and works, blasted the Government for inadequate allocations for bridge repairs and maintenance.
“It is a matter of urgency, but if this is how they are treating national development on something, which is a main road, (an NWA) road, then I pity what other people are feeling in the rest of the country, whose bridges have been destroyed even before the one on the on border of north-west Manchester and south Trelawny,” he said.
“It brings into focus a greater national development issue that we are facing as a country… What is put in the budget for bridge repairs and maintenance is woefully inadequate to even touch the surface of what is needed nationally,” he added.
Phillips said the resumption of face-to-face classes has added to the need for a replacement bridge.
“Schoolchildren... who attend the primary and high schools in Troy ... have been walking from the embankment down into the river and back up to the other side,” he explained.
He said teachers are also affected.
“[They] are not being compensated for the additional fuel, which has a far-reaching effect on the economic activities of Manchester North Western, Trelawny Southern and St Elizabeth in particular,” he said, noting that the alternative route through communities in north-eastern Manchester is 10 miles longer.
“When there is rain they [children] can't cross. You have students that live in Troy, Golden Run, and the surrounding communities, that go to school either in Mandeville or in St Elizabeth. Now they have to travel at least another 10 miles to be able to reach Mandeville or St Elizabeth for school,” he said.
He said “it is even more concerning” as he has not been getting any positive feedback from the NWA.
“…We have not gotten any positive response on if it will be in the new budget or if we can get a temporary structure at least for foot traffic to cross the bridge,” said Phillips.
“This is not good enough because as I have learnt along the way, there are many other communities across Jamaica that are affected by a similar situation, where there are no bridges,” he added.
He said the lack of adequate Bailey bridges is another concern.
“As was told to me by the NWA, we have not imported a new Bailey bridge into the country in years, so what ends up happening is that we have to wait on one bridge to be repaired, move the Bailey bridge from [there] once the new bridge is open, and then move it to another, which is not sustainable for national development in a country like Jamaica,” he said.
Phillips has, meanwhile, called on his neighbouring political representative, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, to join in lobbying for the replacement bridge.
“I have not heard the Member of Parliament for Trelawny Southern make any utterances, where the bridge is concerned. I would love for much more collaboration between both of us in getting it dealt with,” he said.
“The bridge, in my mind, affects not only people who live in both constituencies, but other people who live in the country, who use it for economic activities,” he added.