Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Next leg of highway to impact businesses in six towns

Published:Friday | May 5, 2017 | 5:00 AMSteven Jackson
In this December 2015 photo, NROCC Managing Director Ivan Anderson (left) consults with a representive of the contractors developing the North-South Highway. Chinese firm CHEC will be developing another toll road -- Highway 2000: May Pen-Williamsfield -- once planning approvals and concession negotiations are finalised later this year.

Gas station operators, supermarkets and streetside vendors in six communities are expected to see a reduction in traffic flow as a result of the realignment of the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000.

State-run National Road Operating and Construction Company Limited (NROCC) will meet with two of these communities, Osbourne Store and Porus, next week to hear their concerns, said Stephen Shaw, director of technical services at NROCC.

Shaw told the Financial Gleaner that the highway should increase business and housing along the corridor and thereby provide opportunities for those affected.

"Yes, this will increase business activity. We are carrying the highway towards the southern coast of the island where half the population lives. This highway will provide reliable route, and this reliability will aid in economic activity for whatever activity is done," said Shaw.

It's part of the planned US$188million leg of the road project, which will cut up to 50 minutes off the journey from Kingston to Williamsfield. The project will take three years to construct, but the start date remains to be determined.

That is based on requiring regulatory permits which is expected by summer, said Shaw.

The timeline for construction to begin will be determined thereafter with the conces-sionaire China Harbour Engineering Company.

The communities that will be affected include Clarendon Park, Osbourne Store, Toll Gate, Porus, Scott's Pass and Melrose Hill Bypass, according to the newly published addendum to the Environ-mental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the highway leg, referred to as 1C, from May Pen to Williamsfield.

"The anticipated negative impacts will also be felt mainly in retail, eat/drink and gasolene," stated the document, which complements the initial environmental report on the highway realignment done in 2007.

The 291-page addendum, commissioned by NROCC and prepared by Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL), indicated that housing and/or relocation of vending parks along the highway would benefit those affected in Clarendon Park, Osbourne Store and the Melrose Hill Bypass.

However, it added that any increase in "housing and commercial development [are] likely to be too long term" to be seen as a mitigating factor for those affected in Porus, Scott's Pass and Toll Gate.

"However, Old Harbour, on the Bushy Park to Sandy Bay leg of Highway 2000, is an example of a community that once seemed seriously threatened by the new alignment. Because of rapidly induced housing developments, as a direct consequence of travel time savings, it now appears to be experiencing recovery through its retail and services sectors," ESL wrote.

The alignment is a part of the Highway 2000 Sandy Bay to Williamsfield leg that received an environmental permit in 2007.

"The previous EIA high-lighted several potential impacts that militated against the feasibility of the proposed route. As such, NROCC has subsequently reviewed the alignment," stated the document.

The highway proposes to have two toll plazas, with speed limits of 110 kilometres per hour, running southerly of major settlements at Four Paths, Osbourne Store, Toll Gate and Clarendon Park, and then 80km/h in the hilly terrain between St Toolis and Williamsfield.

"The entire Phase 1C alignment is 19.5km in length," stated the document. The original designs had estimated the stretch at 27.2km.

In 2004, Highway 2000 opened its first leg to become Jamaica's first tolled roadway. It stretches from Caymanas in St Catherine to May Pen, Clarendon, and consists of 46 kilometres. The second leg, totalling 10.5km from Sandy Park to May Pen, was completed in 2012. Those concessions are held by French company Bouygues, through TransJamaican Highway Ltd.

The current leg, Phase IC, is expected to take three years to build.

"It is anticipated that traffic along the highway will increase over the years. Given the highway opening up the area to greater ease of traffic, targeted land use planning is required to ensure sustainable development options. Currently, agriculture, residential and commercial are the main land uses, but this can change which greater access," reasoned the addendum.

"The project is scheduled to be completed within 36 months after the commencement certificate has been issued," it said.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com