THE EDITOR, Sir:
I write in response to a letter written by Mr Ainsworth Dick titled 'Queensborough ford needs no bridge', published in The Gleaner of February 9. Mr Dick made several assertions that I believe need to be clarified and corrected.
First, Mr Dick, who was present at the community meeting hosted by the National Works Agency (NWA) at Meadowbrook High School on Thursday, January 13, can make no reasonable claims of hearing any mention made, by any representative of the NWA present at this meeting, regarding the number of vehicles affected at the Queensborough ford during flood events. Mr Dick's statement, therefore, that the agency "admitted that there was no loss of life because of motorists trying to cross the ford, when it was flooded, and in the past 11 years only four cars were affected", is erroneous. Indeed, this was one of the arguments Mr Dick put forward in his letter to the editor in opposition of the Queensborough Bridge construction project.
The NWA has on record some 736 bridges along the main road network, some of which date back to the 1900s. Approximately 117, or 16 per cent, of the bridges in our inventory are currently earmarked for replacement because of age, obsolescence or deteriorated condition. We have a rigorous system of inspection through which these structures are flagged, where necessary, and appropriate steps taken to remedy whatever may be the issue. Through the R.A. Murray bridge programme, Segment Three of the North Coast Highway Improvement Project (NCHIP), and the Government of Jamaica's capital-works programme, more than 30 structures have been replaced, since 2007. Several others have been rehabilitated/repaired and still others are at various stages of construction or repair implementation/completion. It is, therefore, grossly misleading for Mr Dick to have suggested that "50 per cent of the bridges islandwide urgently need repairing".
It has been our policy, for reasons of safety and all-weather accessibility, to replace fords in built-up areas, and along heavily trafficked corridors, with requisite all-weather bridge structures. The two most recent ones are the Yallahs ford and Waterloo Road ford. We have recently signed contracts for the replacement of both the Cassia Park and Queensborough fords. In fact, the parts for the bridges to be erected at these locations have been in storage, since 2004, awaiting construction.
Mr Dick's opposition to the project is rooted in the fact that the NWA will have to reroute traffic through his community when construction of the bridge begins. As we have stated at the meeting, the NWA considered all the factors, including completely blocking off that section of Queensborough which allows access from Red Hills, Red Hills Drive and other upper-St Andrew communities.
We have explained that given the levels of congestion that is normally observed along the extremely busy Red Hills Road, this option would result in grave traffic delays.
Travel along Red Hills Road is currently very challenging, especially during morning and afternoon peak hours. The greatest travel time delay in the Corporate Area is experienced along this corridor. Currently, it can take a motorist 45 minutes for a distance that should not last more than five minutes travelling along Red Hills Road. Coupled with the work now taking place along the Washington Boulevard, gridlock could occur if we were to reroute all the pertinent vehicles on to Red Hills Road. This point was explained at the meeting.
We must point out also that the width of a standard driving lane is 12 feet. For two lanes, therefore, one needs a minimum of 24 feet. The suggestion of Mr Dick's that "a 30-foot-wide subdivision road is inadequate, both physically and technically, to accommodate it [the bridge] and would put our citizens, especially our children, at great risk" is, therefore, baseless. In fact, a 30-foot reservation would be able to accommodate two lanes of vehicular traffic with room for pedestrians to move safely.
While the NWA intends to utilise William Place as an alternative route, we do not intend to make the community worse off. We have given a commitment to ensuring that whatever is disturbed during the process of constructing the bridge will be reinstated. This includes putting in a new pavement and sidewalks where appropriate, for the residents of William Place.
I am, etc.,