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Critiquing the new highway

Published:Monday | April 4, 2016 | 4:00 AMGarth Rattray
The toll classification and rates are unfair and poorly thought out, argues columnist Garth Rattray.

 

The newly completed North-South leg of Highway 2000 was badly needed. Our little country could never afford to construct that beautiful and magnificent feat of engineering. My opinion of China's involvement in countries such as ours is that it is a long-term economic, cultural, political and diplomatic investment.

The highway will revert to Jamaica in 50 years. In the meantime, as far as I understand, the income is shared between the two countries. We don't know how the toll rates are calculated or how much is paid back to whom, when or the expected gains.

The 25 per cent reprieve is only transient. I can't understand why the toll operators are refusing to make the highway affordable. We are told that, if the requested toll rate is not met, the taxpayers must make up the difference. I suspect that what that means is that, if the requested toll rates are not met, the gap must be closed by the Government. It, therefore, follows that if the requested toll rates are lowered by the toll operators, there will be no gap for the taxpayers to close.

The North-South Highway should be more than just a monetary investment for the developers of the highway, more than just a convenient corridor for the rich, and more than just a quick means of transporting tourists from the north coast to the capital city and back. It should save lives and not just save a few minutes. Everyday commuters should be able to benefit from it.

Some of the main causes of deadly crashes are head-on collisions and improper, dangerous overtaking. The highway reduces those two possibilities tremendously.

There are no sharp curves with large vehicles parked around the corner waiting to take your life, no dangerous precipices with flimsy or non-existent guard rails, no potholes to ambush your tyres and wreak all kinds of havoc, including crashes and death, and no flooding river or major land slippage occurring on the highway.

The highway should be primarily for the safety of all motorists, but now it is a thoroughfare mainly for the well-off.

My criticisms of the highway are:

* Some entry/exit ramps are too narrow. If a large vehicle is disabled there, traffic could back up.

* The vehicle classification is nonsensical. Heavier vehicles damage road surfaces. However, a tiny Daihatsu Terios (H: 1.695m, L: 4.095m, W: 1.74m, weight: 1,140kg) is taller than a Toyota Corolla sedan by 0.229m but shorter by 0.5m and weighs 130kg less. It is also taller than a BMW 7 sedan by 0.217m but shorter by 1.198m and weighs 1,075kg less, yet gets a Class 2 rating.

That puts it on par with the BMW X6 (H: 1.7m, L: 4.9m, W: 1.98m, weight: 2,215kg) and also with a small truck! Furthermore, a Toyota Tundra (full-sized pickup) gets the same Class 3 rating as a massive, commercial, fully loaded 18-wheeler truck!

* The speed limit needs to be varied to reflect the road conditions. Some areas demand lower speeds but many should be 110km/h. The set 80km/h and lower in some areas is ridiculous and makes the transit tedious and longer than it needs to be. Additionally, I happen to know for a fact that rogue cops are already enjoying a financial feeding frenzy (tens of thousands of dollars daily) on the new highway by extorting drivers ($2,000 each) that they catch going a little above the posted limit on straight portions of the road.

* The corners should have been cambered (with the outer curve higher than the inner curve) to facilitate easier and safer cornering.

* The lighting is dismal - some areas beg for illumination.

* The signs are sparse, too small and not placed prominently.

* And, of course, the toll fees are way too high. It's going to take forever to recover construction/maintenance costs. They should charge less and get many more users. People are going to continue dying along certain routes simply because they cannot afford to drive on the highway. That is a terrible shame.

I thought that the socialist mindset of the Chinese would have ensured that the highway would have been inclusive, not exclusive.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanejrm.com and garthrattay@gmail.com.