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Editorial: Urgent need for a road/transport plan

Published:Thursday | May 5, 2016 | 5:00 AM

We are not yet clear on which of Prime Minister Andrew Holness' deputies in the new Ministry for Economic Growth and Job Creation has the responsibility for planning and development of the country's road infrastructure. And it is unlikely that that, especially with regard to the capital's existing thoroughfares, is at the top of his list of priorities as the administration seeks to kick-start projects which it hopes will rapidly expand gross domestic product and create employment. That, if it is the case, would be a mistake.

Indeed, it is this newspaper's view that Jamaica, and especially the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), is in urgent need for an integrated road development and public-transport plan involving the integrated, multimodal transport scheme that Mike Henry, the transport and mining minister, used to talk about a lot, but more.

Having lost the works portfolio, which he held for most of the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, Mr Henry is not now responsible for the "planning, design and development of an adequate, safe and effective road network". But as the man who oversees the Government's bus companies, the regulatory bodies for aviation and some maritime bodies, he clearly has a legitimate interest in anything that allows for the development and management of an effective traffic and transport system.

In that regard, on the presumption that his Cabinet colleagues have not yet got around to addressing these matters, it would perhaps be useful for Mr Henry to initiate inter-ministerial discussions towards the road/transport/traffic policy to which we refer. This plan should address the country's expected demographic shifts over next the decade or two, the road and transportation needs that will be required to accommodate these changes, what is to be done to fix immediate problems, and how the agreed policy is to be financed.

The potential value of any can hardly be in doubt. Indeed, it is widely accepted that efficient public transportation, inclusive of a good network, helps to drive investment and enhances economic activity, which means job creation and growth in national output.

 

ECONOMIC IMPACT

 

For instance, the North Coast Highway, developed by the Jamaican government in the 1990s, helped spur the spate of hotel investments along its corridor in the 2000s. We expect the recently opened, tolled North-South Highway, which links the island's commercial/industrial south coast to the tourism north, to in time have a similar economic impact. It is not only that new areas of the country are opened to economic activity, but increased speed of travel ultimately reduces costs.

And if time is money, Jamaicans waste tons of it daily in lost man hours sitting in traffic on the island's roads. In the KMA, for instance, the snail's pace at which long lines of vehicles crawl along the Mandela Highway towards the capital's commercial centres must ultimately affect labour productivity. There are similar problems from the Long Lane/Manor Park region, heading south towards Kingston's city centre and around the Barbican Circle region, which, itself, is emerging as an important business district.

While improving the road network, we would expect that any analysis will question whether it is rational to have over quarter million vehicles on Jamaica's roads, what economic benefit would accrue of these were rationalised, and what compensatory system would have to be put in place.