Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Half-Way Tree Transport Centre losing its shine - Once pristine building buried in dust, soot

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:22 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
The heavily used public facility currently features dirty walls, scratched stairway handrails and a network of spiderwebs in the structure’s ceiling.
The heavily used public facility currently features dirty walls, scratched stairway handrails and a network of spiderwebs in the structure’s ceiling.
The heavily used public facility currently features dirty walls, scratched stairway handrails and a network of spiderwebs in the structure’s ceiling.
The condition of unkept areas of the Half Way Tree Transport Centre recently. The heavily used public facility currently features dirty walls, scratched stairway handrails and a network of spiderwebs in the structure’s ceiling.
1
2
3
4

Built on loan and grant funding from the Belgian government, the Half-Way Tree Transportation Centre, which opened its doors in 2008, is more than just a bus park. It’s a recreation ground of sorts, a meeting place, and trafficked by more than 100,000 persons daily, according to Transport Authority (TA) officials.

The TA, which is responsible for the management of the centre, is seeking to spend $100 million in the next five years to restore the once-pristine building to its earlier glory, according to Managing Director Cecil Morgan.

“We are concerned about the appearance of the building,” he said last week in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

Its main entrance is on Constant Spring Road, and the pink and white welcoming oleanders are losing the battle for survival in the heavily trafficked area. The big yellow buses which roam areas in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine are dispatched from the centre, which begins humming with human and vehicular traffic from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses rolling in and out of the centre.

Lighthouse for travellers

The building towers above many others in the parish’s capital (Kingston), which is also Jamaica’s capital. It is a lighthouse for many traversing the area for the first time.

“Pick me up at the transport centre.” “Leave me at the transport centre.” “Just look for the big round building.” These mark some of the ways the facility is often referenced.

Security personnel shout that “elevator is not working”.

It’s not the only thing not working.

Large monitors which formerly provided information on bus availability now stare blankly at passengers. They have not worked in nearly a decade. Corporate entities use the third floor commercial space for a range of activities with the bumper-to-bumper traffic forming part of the backdrop, and picturesque Red Hills in the distance.

The majestic roof of the upper deck of the centre is divided by a row of glass about three feet wide and which provides a view of the heavens in brilliant sunshine or during rains. What appear to be wooden planks provide a lining under the metal covered roof, and is largely responsible for the pleasant temperatures experienced by travellers. Generous breeze from South Odeon Avenue contributes to the cool climes on the upper deck, which faces Constant Spring Road.

Choked by cobwebs

A section of the glass is being choked by cobwebs, some dangling more than four feet from the roof, as if preparing to jump. The once visible white-painted wood under the metal roof is black, with accumulated dirt and soot from the mufflers of vehicles over many years.

Overnight garbage is carried over well into the next day. It is not uncommon to see the steps being swept as late as 10-10:30 a.m. with workers occasionally wearing a dust mask. Stairway rails have been stripped of paint in some areas, but it is a credit to security and other personnel that they have been spared of graffiti. The massive 80-inch diameter columns are wiped – not properly – only as far as hands can reach.

Poorly wiped walls are obvious, even with a weak glance.

The centre is a joint venture project between Jamaica and Belgium. The multistorey facility was built at a cost of J$4.9 billion, 80 per cent of which is interest free and the remaining 20 per cent at a concessionary rate of four per cent. Construction was completed on time, and within budget.

The centre has two platform levels that can accommodate 60 bus lines or 580 buses per hour. Restroom facilities are also available, and elevators to assist physically challenged persons from one level to the other. However, buses cannot accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers.

Visually handicapped individuals are assisted by JUTC uniformed personnel.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com