THE conclusion is being drawn that since no deaths or major incidents have been reported from out-of-control trucks going north downhill on the Edward Seaga Highway, the facility might well have been saving lives.
“If we have no fatalities or serious injuries, that is how you know it is effective,” reasoned Lerone Laing, CEO of the Toll Authority of Jamaica (TAJ) when queried by the Jamaica Observer about the effectiveness of the six escape lanes.
Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague reported in his sectoral presentation recently in Parliament that improvements are being made to two of the escape lanes. But the minister did not give the cost of the improvements.
Laing explained the need for improvements, saying: “It is a twofold process. Not only is the infrastructure necessary to meet the international requirements but also for the users to know how to manoeuvre the escape lanes properly.”
The international standards would be based on those of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which the Jamaica North South Highway Company (JNSH) achieved after improving the escape lanes.
The improvements involved the pea gravel and crash attenuators — a safety device designed to reduce motor vehicle speed — to make them more capable of saving lives of motorists who experience difficulties on the steep drive downhill on the key north-south corridor.
He explained that there were several actual incidents in which motorists had used the escape lanes accurately, but more public awareness was needed.
“Most persons drive on the smooth part of the escape lanes but they should really drive into the gravel bed areas, so that the traction of it can hold the vehicle. We have tried to educate motorists about how to properly use them and it is definitely an activity that we want to continue,” said Laing.
Laing noted that the improvements took approximately eight months, adding: “Those works started about a year ago and they are now complete. We did a final test in terms of the grade of material which should be used in the gravel beds [of the escape lanes] to stop vehicles in the event of an emergency, and we got those results in May.”
Acting managing director, National Road Operating and Constructing Company Limited (NROCC), George Nicholson explained that the existing pea gravel was replaced with fresh pea gravel, preventing it from compacting and interlocking like regular gravel.
“A vehicle in [difficulty] should drive up the escape lane into the gravel bed, where the friction from the pea gravel will cause the vehicle to slow down,” he said. “It will be slowed down by the gravel then hit the crash attenuators at the end of the gravel bed.”
Pointing out that while escape lanes are generally for trucks, Nicholson said they can be used by other types of vehicles once a motorist is experiencing mechanical difficulties and needs to make an emergency stop in the vicinity of the lanes.
“If you are driving and your brakes are overheating, which makes it more difficult for you to stop, you can go off into an escape lane. In our case we have escape lanes that rise in elevation, so you have gravel to help you slow down the vehicle,” he stressed.