ST JAMES, Jamaica — Two members of parliament (MP) in St James have vowed to do all they can to ensure that while the long-awaited bypass is being built, residents will not be victims of the horrific inconvenience seen in other sections of the country undergoing major roadwork.
“We know that work in progress can be inconvenient, and, so, we are also taking steps to minimise the inconvenience that will result during the process of the work, and asking for the patience of everyone,” said MP for St James West Central Marlene Malahoo Forte, who is also the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Malahoo Forte urged residents to think of the positives the project will bring, such as jobs for locals, improved access, and better infrastructure.
“Already recruitment of people within the communities has begun. Many are getting training, those who choose to register,” said the MP.
“But think of it as access, just making communities a little more accessible and opening them up... I'm really excited for all motorists, all travellers in and around the parish and through the parish. But I think more than anything else, it is the access and the renewal of the area that I'm pleased for,” she added.
Malahoo Forte was speaking with OBSERVER ONLINE on Tuesday, days after the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) point man in the west, Minister of State Homer Davis, gave a similar assurance to residents that he will be there for them during the project.
"Let us understand that your interest is equally our interest because I am here. What took place in the eastern end of the island cannot and will not happen here in St James," Davis told residents from several communities who turned out at Irwin High School for an update.
All the MPs for St James were elected on a governing Jamaica Labour Party ticket and Davis, a former Mayor of Montego Bay and sitting MP for St James southern, assured those gathered that he is not the only one in their corner.
"This road goes across all five constituencies... All five members of parliament have a vested interest to make sure that this road is done in such a way that we don't put our citizens in distress," he said.
In addition to Davis and Malahoo Forte’s constituencies, the bypass runs through Edmund Bartlett’s East Central, Dr Horace Chang’s North Western and Heroy Clarke’s St James Central.
After years of promises, Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground for the US$274.5 million project last July. Land clearance and acquisition has begun but the heavy lifting is expected to begin later this summer.
Spanning 14.9 kilometres, the bypass will divert traffic away from the city’s congested centre. It will also include rehabilitation of Barnett Street and West Green Avenue, a 10.5-kilometre expansion work to the Long Hill bypass and a comprehensive drainage study of Montego Bay. The project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).
CHEC is also working on the problem-plagued South Coastal Highway Improvement Project that has left residents of St Thomas battling plumes of dust and bumpy roads still under construction. Originally slated to be completed in April, the date was later pushed back to August but Minister with responsibility for Roads Everald Warmington has recently expressed doubt that the new deadline will be met.
Davis is adamant that problems will be kept to a minimum in St James and those that arise will be swiftly remedied.
"I know you'll be getting the first brunt of the noise, first brunt of the dust and I hear that land acquisition is not yet totally settled. But, as I said to [The National Road Operating and Constructing Company Limited managing director Stephen] Edwards, we'll be setting up an office with a liaison person where community members — if they are affected by the excessive noise, if they are affected by blasting, by vibrations — then there will be an office that you can lodge your complaint and they will deal with it as the complaint arises," he promised during the meeting.
The state minister in OPM promised that he will be taking a proactive approach to handling problems encountered during the bypass project.
"I will be taking these concerns, when I speak to the prime minister, about some of the issues and how we can mitigate these issues from becoming problems," Davis told residents.