Mon | Mar 30, 2020

MoBay Perimeter Road project weighs traffic restrictions to Gloucester Avenue - Only a third of residents willing to pay toll

Published:Wednesday | March 25, 2020 | 12:18 AMSteven Jackson/Senior Business Reporter
A vehicle drives along Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay at night ime. The new Perimeter Road under consideration proposes to bypass the strip.
A vehicle drives along Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay at night ime. The new Perimeter Road under consideration proposes to bypass the strip.

The proposed perimeter toll road in Montego Bay, projected to cost about US$140 million and deliver double-digit returns to the operators, could see traffic restrictions on Gloucester Avenue, the main existing road that runs through the tourism corridor.

But there might be resistance from motorists, as only one-third of the persons interviewed expressed a willingness to pay toll, according to the environmental impact report done by CL Environmental Limited.

The road is projected to pay for itself in less than a decade, in the scenario where Gloucester Avenue, which has been renamed Jimmy Cliff Boulevard and is branded for tourism purposes as the ‘Hip Strip’, is largely closed to city traffic, the report notes.

The Hip Strip is home to a number of shops and stores that cater to locals and tourists, as well as hotels and other accommodations, and eateries. It’s currently undergoing a revival and the Government has pledged to infuse capital to bolster its infrastructure and boardwalk appeal.

The Perimeter Road project aims to ease congestion through the business district of Montego Bay. Its scope entails a 15-kilometre four-lane road which will start from Ironshore near the Blue Diamond shopping centre, run southeasterly towards Green Pond, then onward to the shopping complexes at Fairfield, Bogue, and continues to the hills of Anchovy and Montpelier.

Just over a third of Montego Bay residents, 36.2 per cent, say they would pay a toll of $100 to $200 to use the Perimeter Road; 31.8 per cent were uncertain; while 32 per cent were unwilling to pay.

The road development is to be spearheaded by National Road Operating & Constructing Company, NROCC, but efforts at comment from the state agency were unsuccessful.

The environmental report, which focused on the economic impacts of the project, said in order to achieve the benefits, “Gloucester Avenue must remain restricted”, and that “it will be necessary to perform routine maintenance and periodic maintenance on the Perimeter Road”. Leaving Gloucester Avenue open to traffic flow would cause a significant reduction in benefits, it said, but did not specify the rate of return under that scenario.

The economic feasibility study conducted for the project included an economic evaluation using the World Bank’s Highway Development and Management model and other methodologies. A key aspect involved modelling different scenarios: ‘do something’ or ‘do nothing’.

“In the case of this project, two scenarios, which are the base case – Gloucester Avenue restricted; and a sensitivity scenario – Gloucester Avenue is open for traffic, were specified,” the report stated.

“From an economic feasibility standpoint, the base case with Gloucester Avenue being restricted is almost feasible, with an economic internal rate of return of 11.6 per cent … . Therefore, the project should not be delayed,” the report concluded.

The economic internal rate of return gives an indication of the pace of recouping investments in a project.

Additionally, the consultants recommended that the construction budget for the road, which is expected to be a four-year project, be reduced from US$142.6 million to about US$138.9 million; and that Queen’s Drive, which is an alternative route to Gloucester Avenue, be positioned to deal with additional capacity during construction.

“This is in light of our expectation of Queen’s Drive being at full capacity by that time, under a 2.6 per cent annual growth rate assumed in the analysis,” the report stated.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com