Highway 2000 Prepared for Sustainable Future
TransJamaica Highway (TJH) is laying the foundation to become an environmentally friendly organisation and already the seeds are bearing fruit. Most of the mangroves that were destroyed when land was cleared for construction of the Portmore Causeway and tollbooth area have regrown, and the lighting used along the highway is solar-powered.
TJH has responsibility for major road works, a function that it takes seriously. Toll fare hikes and asset improvement also fall under their remit. Jamaican Infrastructure Operator Ltd (JIO) takes charge of regular road maintenance and repair, as well as weeding of the verges along the highway that is used by approximately 40,000 vehicles daily. The JIO also handles marketing and customer relations, accidents and traffic disruptions, theft of highway equipment and daily operations.
From the control room overlooking the Portmore and other toll plazas, specially trained staff are able to see all that takes place from close to 360 degrees around them. What is not seen by their naked eyes is captured from some 30 camera angles on a large monitor there. That includes a beautiful view of the replanted mangroves across the highway. "The replanting was part of our plans for greening the area," said Nicole Kuster, administrative and communication chief officer for JIO. To date, most of the mangroves destroyed in the road construction process has filled out the area previously left bare.
"We also focus heavily on sustainable development through initiatives such as our water harvesting tanks at all toll plazas and our efforts to reduce electricity use by 50 per cent so far," Kuster said in an informative session with journalists last Friday at the Portmore Toll Plaza.
Other initiatives include a biodiversity awareness programme with the Institute of Jamaica; a partnership with the Mustard Seed Communities for roof repairs at their Jerusalem property; as well as initiatives at schools in St Catherine and Clarendon geared at making students able to feed themselves while providing employment for a few parents. There is also a Reduce, Reuse and Recycle initiative at all of the company's locations that encourages good conservation habits, in particular rainwater harvesting.
In spite of efforts by the TJH-JIO to keep the environment within which it operates free from pollution, the periodic smoke nuisance along sections of the highway continues to be a hazard to motorists. Desmond Levy, operations and maintenance manager, told The Gleaner that they have held discussions with sugar cane farmers and factory owners in the vicinity and requested dates when fires will be lit to burn cane for reaping.
"We have no control over indiscriminate bush fires caused by persons who might discard lit cigarette butts or even burn garbage close by, but when there is a fire we activate a plan to warn motorists of the smoke nuisance. They are then deployed to use flares and other means to stop traffic and warn motorists till it abates," said Levy. But to be on the safe side, motorists are encouraged that when they see smoke, to pull over and wait until it is safe to proceed. The level of smoke can be very deceptive and has in the past resulted in accidents.