EDITORIAL - A four-lane highway of debt
There is no doubt that the Palisadoes strip that leads to the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) has been a major concern to this and previous administrations. Its closure in the immediate aftermath of strong storm surges because of blockages from boulders and sand clearly demands attention. Airline passengers needing to use the airport, in these situations, have often been frustrated by the absence of an alternative route.
So we have noted with great interest that the Chinese Ex-Im Bank is lending the Jamaican Government US$55.8 million (J$4.97 billion), or 85 per cent of the amount needed, to construct a four-lane highway from the Harbour View roundabout to the NMIA. Undoubtedly, the low rate of interest is attractive, but is this good enough reason for Jamaica to get further into debt?
It can't be traffic congestion which has led the cash-strapped Government to increase our foreign debt by US$55.8 million. The traffic flow on the Harbour View-airport road is not known to be heavy, and there are many other Corporate Area roads which are extensively jammed at peak hours that would benefit from traffic-flow modifications.
Country moving forward
At the launch of the project on April 22, Minister of Transport and Works, Mike Henry, said that the construction of the highway would give "an impression of a country moving forward"; "the first thing it creates is a different impression on arriving". Driving from the airport to Harbour View - especially at night - on the present two-lane highway is already a pleasant experience, which can hardly be improved by the addition of two more lanes. And after leaving Harbour View and heading towards the hotels of New Kingston through Windward Road and Mountain View Avenue, won't any good impression gained be erased?
So is it the intention to impress arriving visitors to the island, or is this expensive project an effort to impress the electorate that the "country is moving forward" as the country approaches another general election due within the next two years?
Damage to the environment
Additionally, the Palisadoes strip seems too narrow to easily accommodate a four-lane highway. Such a project will require major engineering work, which must result in extensive modifications to the strip and the marine areas adjacent to it. As far as we can determine, no environmental impact assessment has been conducted for this project, which falls within the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area declared in 1998. The Government seems prepared to run the risk of running into another confrontation with environmentalists and advocates for sustainable development.
Surely, when our education system is in crisis, calling out for increased spending to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes; surely, when we are experiencing a crime crisis demanding that millions be spent on upgrading our crime detection and crime-fighting technology; better ways could have been found to spend US$55.8 million in additional debt!
Perhaps the new plans for the Palisadoes strip call for it to be elevated and better protected from the sea in times of storm surges. So far, that has not been spelt out by the minister. For the time being, however, it is difficult to fathom how useful a four-lane highway would be to motorists who travel to and from the airport or Port Royal. The project plans need to be revisited.
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