Gov't gives Portmore roads major focus
A file photo of the Mandela Highway, from which a new access road to Portmore will be built.

PORTMORE, which the Government is pushing to be named Jamaica's 15th parish, will have major roads upgraded and built, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced Thursday.

Additionally, Government plans to build the Caymanas highway interchange to facilitate connection of the east-west and north-south legs of highways without exiting.

"Presently, users on either toll road are forced to exit on to the Mandela Highway if they intend to access the other toll road. This inefficiency will be resolved with the design and construction of a full-grade, separated interchange between the north-south highway and the east-west highway in the Caymanas vicinity, with the pre-construction works slated for the financial year 2023/24.

"This is just one step in the long-term plan to build out a fully connected road network across Jamaica that allows users to move seamlessly across the island," the prime minister said.

Holness also announced plans for construction of a Portmore access road from Mandela Highway into the municipality with the building of a bridge over the Rio Cobre. This project is now in its the final study and design stages.

This new access road into the growing Portmore community would greatly improve traffic flow on the Mandela Highway, which is still burdened by heavy morning and afternoon peak traffic despite a major rehabilitation a few years ago.

At the same time, the Braeton to Hellshire Main Road, as well as Naggo Head to East Mid Street in Portmore are to be widened. And the previously announced dualisation of Grange Lane, from Municipal Boulevard to Madrid Avenue in Independence City, will now start in the first quarter of the 2023/24 fiscal year, the prime minister said in his contribution to the 2023/24 budget debate.

Meanwhile, Holness announced that the May Pen to Williamsfield segment of the east-west leg of Highway 2000 is now 90 per cent complete and will be opened in August 2023. After the construction is finalised the highway will be the property of the Government of Jamaica, for which an operating concession will be negotiated.

And, as Government pushes to extend Highway 2000 Holness said his Administration plans to extend the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project further westward, from Williamsfield in Manchester to Hodges in St Elizabeth.

"The scope of the project includes improvements of the existing road infrastructure as well as bypasses for Mandeville, Spur Tree, Junction, Southfield, and Black River," said the prime minister.

He also said that, based on the most recent traffic numbers along the north coast Highway, several areas have already exceeded the 15,000 vehicles per day threshold which was contemplated in the original traffic studies, resulting in growing congestion.

"Sea Castles to Greenwood has the largest capacity deficit, and improving this corridor to four lanes would allow an increase in the daily capacity to approximately 39,800 vehicles. Fortunately, this corridor does not have any major geometric constraints to improving the existing alignment," he said.

"The Discovery Bay to Salem segment, on the other hand, has several entry and exit points and encroachments and limited reservations that constrain capacity and the potential for widening the corridor to four lanes. Therefore, a bypass option is being considered. The Salem to Mammee Bay section is also being considered for expansion since the existing road can reasonably accommodate it.

"The plan, as conceived, is to upgrade approximately 60 kilometres of roadway — between Sea Castles to Mammee Bay — from two lanes to four lanes, costing US$568 million," the prime minister told the House.

National Road Operating and Constructing Company has signed an agreement with the International Finance Corporation which will guide development of the project.

And work on the Southern Coastal Highway in the eastern section of the island, being undertaken through the National Works Agency, is also at an advanced stage.

Said Holness: "This flagship project is much more than just a new road. We are:

1. Widening and realigning the existing road to make it safer and more efficient;

2. Upgrading the drainage;

3. Building new bridges;

4. Installing new water and sewer lines;

5. Installing ducts for fibre optic cables to support our National Broadband Communication Initiative, and

6. Building sidewalks, installing streetlights and markings, and putting up signs to keep everyone safe on the road.

"The eastern end of the project includes a 17.4-km, four-lane roadway from Harbour View to Yallahs Bridge. This is 87 per cent complete, with practical completion scheduled for April 2023, and the rehabilitation and resurfacing of 123.65 km of existing roadway from Yallahs Bridge to Port Antonio and Morant Bay to Cedar Valley broken down in 15 sub-project packages. Ten of these packages, currently under way, are in various stages of completion and are expected to be completed in December 2023. The final five packages are scheduled to commence in 2023/24 and are expected to be completed in March 2025," said Holness.

He said the plight of Jamaicans who have endured significant disruption to their daily lives due to these works is not lost on the Government.

"That is why your Government continues to examine the progress carefully, with a view to making changes for better execution. Steady progress is being made and already communities are benefiting from the improvement in the infrastructure. This is the largest public investment in the parish, certainly since the Morant Bay Rebellion. Through the CHASE Fund, a museum will be built in Morant Bay to ensure that current and future generations are rooted and grounded in the knowledge of our rich cultural and historical heritage," he said, adding, "It is the intention of this Government to develop the full potential of the parish of St Thomas, which has largely been neglected since colonial times."

BY PETE SANKEY Senior associate editor

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