MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Less than a week after the official opening of the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000 stray animals and motorists driving on the wrong side of the highway have added to mounting concerns over safety on the high-speed road.
Motorists travelling from Mandeville to Porus have been placed at risk by others using an off-ramp to enter the eastbound lane, and travelling in the wrong direction.
The Jamaica Observer captured dashcam footage of a man driving a Toyota sedan in the eastbound lane heading westward on Tuesday. The motorist seemed to have entered the highway from the off-ramp near Porus. Motorists have also submitted to the Observer footage of vehicles, including a truck, travelling westerly in the eastbound lane.
A Toyota Hiace bus overturned in the eastbound lane mid-morning Tuesday in Clarendon. Unconfirmed reports said that the vehicle's tire blew out, causing the accident. There were no reports of anyone being injured.
Meanwhile, Opposition spokesperson on transport and works, Mikael Phillips in a statement on Tuesday,, called on the Government to immediately address the danger posed by stray animals, "particularly cattle, on the recently opened May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000. If the situation is not addressed immediately it would be irresponsible to keep the highway open to motorists at the risk of damage and death", he said.
Phillips said he had received several reports and personally witnessed the dangerous situation, which poses a high risk of motor vehicle collisions along the high-speed corridor. He said the presence of the animals was due to the non-completion of the perimeter fencing to keep them out.
However Stephen Edwards, managing director at National Road Operating & Constructing Company (NROCC), which is responsible for overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Jamaica's highways, said the project has entered the defects and liabilities period.
"The right-of-way fence design is in accordance with the specifications outlined in the contract. Now that the project has entered the defects and liabilities phase, the contractor is contractually obligated to fix any project-related defects. The defects and liabilities period will last approximately two years," he told the Observer via e-mail.
Edwards also had concerns about theft of fencing, which he said has been an ongoing challenge on all sections of the highway network. The police, he said, have been providing support to mitigate against this challenge.
Phillips, meanwhile, called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to intervene.
"We have a tendency to act only after a disaster has occurred. The hazard posed by the numerous stray animals will undoubtedly lead to accidents if corrective action is not taken by the authorities," he said.
He also called on the National Works Agency to exercise its functions under the Main Roads Act in the interest of road safety, and to protect the lives of Jamaican motorists.
Phillips said, too, that municipal corporations have a duty to impound animals that stray onto roadways. "There have been several fatal accidents this year involving stray animals, including one which took the life of a young police officer," he said.
Meanwhile, minority leader in the Clarendon Municipal Corporation Councillor Scean Barnswell (Hayes Division, People's National Party) said the highway should be closed until all the necessary works to safeguard it are completed.
"I think the opening of this highway puts motorists' lives at risks. Government needs to suspend the use of the highway and revert to using the old road until they put in the safety signs [and] measures needed — signs, markings — because, as is now, it is just chaos out there and people's lives are at risk," said Barnswell, an aspirant for the Clarendon South Eastern seat.
Head of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Gary McKenzie said stray animals on highways pose a serious risk.
"They are always very dangerous to, especially, motorists — and certainly on a highway like the one we are speaking of, it is not desirable. That is something that we are working on jointly with the community as it's being said animals have to be protected, secured. It cannot be that they are just allowed to roam," he told the Observer on Friday.
Councillor Claudia Morant-Baker (Porus Division, Jamaica Labour Party) said the presence of stray animals on the highway is due to the road being built through farming communities.
"It is a concern for us because, even during the opening on Thursday, we identified that animals are straying on. I spoke with some residents from Trinity [near Porus] on Friday morning and they told me that once they see it is officially open, they will 'catch up [restrain] their animals'.
"We wish that persons would do this responsible measure because, at the end of the day, barbed wire is being used. If chain link goes on it is going to be missing [stolen], as we have seen along the previous highway," she said.
Clarendon South Western Member of Parliament Lothan Cousins, whose constituency has most of the highway's alignment, reiterated his view that more aspects of the highway should have been completed before it was opened to the public.
"It goes right back to my argument that the highway was never prepared for the opening, and that by virtue of the fact that we are now having these issues this rush opening might very well endanger the lives of the motoring public," he said.