Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Motorists get temporary discount on new highway

Published:Thursday | March 24, 2016 | 3:00 AMChristopher Serju
From left: Prime Minister Andrew Holness; Terri Grandison; vice-president, China Communications Construction Company Limited, Ziyu Sun; Chantal Campbell; Rev Jeffrey McKenzie, custos of St Catherine; Danya Hunt and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the North-South Highway at Cayamanas Estate yesterday.

Motorists using the North-South Link of Highway 2000, which reopened at midnight, will pay a 25 per cent discount on the proposed toll rates outlined in press advertisements on Wednesday, March 16 - a privilege they will enjoy until Saturday, April 2.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made the announcement during yesterday's official opening of the 66-kilometre stretch, which runs from Angels and Caymanas in St Catherine all the way to Mammee Bay, St Ann, with six access points.

The prime minister explained that the temporary concession was a result of intense talks with the concessionaires, Jamaica North-South Highway Company, and used the occasion to explain that the highway by itself, while representing great potential for economic development, must be properly utilised in order to realise those gains.

"We have seen the curious paradox that we have had many large investments, including large investments in highways and roads, but they have had limited impact on economic growth. We have to give reasons for persons to use the roads. We have to create incentives.

"We have to develop the value propositions for investors to come and not just drive on it, but to build along the road. The road itself and the scenery are a tourist attraction. It is beautiful! The opportunities for tourism, for leisure recreation, for light manufacturing, for agriculture are many," the prime minister charged.

Niu Qingbao, ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Jamaica, described the highway as an enduring symbol of the partnership between both countries on a number of levels. He called it a "PPP" - public-private partnership - between the Jamaican government and the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and went on to explain the importance of the collaboration.

"Without guidance and assistance from the Government; without expediting all the processes, this work could not have been completed on time and in such a short time range," he admitted.

The Chinese ambassador also demonstrated a deep understanding of the nuances of Jamaican politics, stunning the audience into sustained applause after sharing a Chinese saying that "connectivity precedes prosperity, so if you want to get rich, you build road first. With connectivity in place, prosperity will follow, and, of course, this road will also be a solid step up for progress."

The highway, which was built at a cost of US$600 million, is the first such infrastructure investment by the CHEC in a foreign country, which the ambassador said was a vote of confidence in Jamaica's economic future by the Chinese people.

"The whole of China has confidence in our bilateral relationship, in our friendship, and in Jamaica's economic future. And with the bipartisan support of the China-Jamaica friendship, I'm pretty sure that our friendly partnership for common development will have a smooth ride like motorists will have on the highway."

Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller pointed to the foresight of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, who, on November 21, 1972, established full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. This was despite fierce opposition from some of the country's more powerful trading partners such as the United States of America at a time when such a move was not only considered unwise, but political suicide as well.

In a previous interview, former transport minister Omar Davis explained that sometime afterwards, he, too, had asked Manley about this very unpopular move, which the former prime minister described as a no-brainer, with the explanation that you can't ignore a quarter of the world's population.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com