Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Editorial | Who’s monitoring the road projects?

Published:Friday | July 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Operators of rollers compress asphalt at Portia Simpson Miller Square, which has been the centre of major infrastructure works for more than a year. Ricardo Makyn/Chief Photo Editor

People who live, work, or do business in Jamaica’s capital will be heartened by this week’s promise by E.G. Hunter that all the major road and related infrastructure projects being undertaken in the Greater Kingston area would be complete by the end of the summer.

“Absolutely!” Mr Hunter, CEO of the Government’s National Works Agency (NWA), declared to this newspaper in affirmation of the timeline. There is need, however, for accountability on these undertakings beyond the seal of Mr Hunter’s agency.

The projects in question include the US$64-million expansion of a 3.5-kilometre stretch of Mandela Highway, into and out of Kingston, from St Catherine and other parishes further west of the capital, which started in August 2016 and was initially scheduled to be completed in 24 months. There is, too, the US$19.1-million widening of Constant Spring Road, the metropolis’ major corridor for motorists travelling from the mostly residential north to the commercial south. That project was to be completed in 18 months – almost a year ago.

Also in the mix is the widening and upgrading – including the construction of an overpass at Portia Simpson Miller Square – of 3.7 kilometres of Hagley Park Road, the major east-west artery, over which, like Constant Spring Road, approximately 30,000 vehicles traverse daily. Being done at a cost of US$56.5 million, that project should, if Mr Hunter is right, meet its October 2019 deadline.

Another of these significant works is the ongoing widening of Barbican Road westwards beyond Russell Heights. The price tag for those works is separate from the initial US$4.4-million widening and realignment of a 1.1-kilometre section of the road eastward between Russell Heights and Jacks Hill Road.

No sensible person will second-guess the potential positive impact on the operational efficiency of Kingston and, ultimately, the national economy. Indeed, traffic on Hagley Park Road is projected, because of the improvements, to increase by six per cent a year within two years of completion. And it is likely to be safer and a pace closer to the allowable 50-kilometre-per-hour limit than, except for the most daring, the bumpy crawl of the past.

The experts also expect Constant Spring Road’s traffic to grow by three per cent per year. Further, with appropriate maintenance, these roads should be in good condition for at least two decades.

BUSINESSES SUFFERING

But the Holness administration’s decision to undertake all these projects at the same time hasn’t been without cost, being felt particularly by the private sector. Many businesses along these thoroughfares, as has been reported on several times, and noted again in our report on Thursday, have lost clients. Some merely limp along. Households, too, have suffered from disruptions to their water, telecommunications and other utility services because of the work.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has, however, argued that his administration was forced to frontload the works for fear of losing the 80 per cent financing from China’s Export-Import Bank because of the ­tardiness of the previous administration, having negotiated the loans, in getting the projects done.

This newspaper believes that there should be a full, independent analysis of the execution of these projects, including an assessment of the accuracy of Mr Holness’ reasoning, the economic cost of the disruptions, and if, and by how much. This review should provide the Government with a road map for efficiently handling multiple projects at the same time, especially when clustered in a relatively small city like Kingston.

Moreover, the cumulative expenditure on these projects, based on the declared cost, is above J$19 billion. The main contractor is China Harbour Engineering Company, but there are many subcontractors. Hopefully, the Integrity Commission has, of its own accord, probed these contracts for the efficacy of their execution and determined whether taxpayers have received value for money. If the commission has done so, it should have its findings tabled in Parliament. If it hasn’t, it should. Past experience dictates as much.