Billions more for Junction fix - Broadgate repairs projected to end March, but Band-Aid plastered on Tom’s River
Despite a near 100 per cent overrun and two-year delay in completion of the Junction roadworks in St Mary, “billions of dollars more” will be needed to rehabilitate a discrete gutted stretch of the key corridor linking Kingston to the northeastern parish.
That revelation comes as crewmen scrambled since Thursday to meet a new end-of-March deadline to finish paving the thoroughfare from Agualta Vale to Broadgate, which has been a dustbowl of marl and backhoes, causing gridlock and the sputtering of the parish’s economy.
The major road overhaul has been undertaken by Surrey Paving, which is expected to wrap up asphaltic works and the construction of retaining toe walls to brace against the Broadgate slopes.
The budget will round out at $1.1 billion, almost double the $600 million initially budgeted for the project.
However, the roadway running from Broadgate to Tom’s River is a canvas of carnage – described by National Works Agency (NWA) Chief Executive Officer E.G. Hunter as a badly worn driving surface with numerous breakaways. That, though, falls under a separate contract.
The NWA has pledged a Band-Aid of $30 million to apply to the gaping sores, cosmetic dressing that will include pothole patching, bush clearing, and the installation of signage.
“A meaningful attempt at fixing this section of the corridor would cost many billions of dollars and cause major traffic disruption, as there are no feasible alternative routes,” Hunter told The Gleaner on Saturday.
“... It should be understood that these works are intended to give temporarily relief and make travelling less hazardous. They do not purport to be the permanent fix.”
That policy of kicking the can down the road may be a reflection of the Government’s tightening fiscal space amid an anaemic economy starved by coronavirus restrictions and years-long underfunding of the state works agency.
Hunter told a parliamentary committee late last year that it would take $1 trillion to upgrade Jamaica’s road network to acceptable standards.
The Chovey breakaway, which was earmarked for redress in a separate contract, will cost $350 million, Hunter told The Gleaner, $29 million more than was initially announced by Minister without Portfolio Everald Warmington in October 2020. That project is scheduled to run for seven months and is expected to start in days, although the mobilisation of equipment may be weeks away. Surrey Paving is also the contractor.
The months of delays have annoyed senior citizen Walter Stewart, who has spent all his life in Broadgate.
“Mi never see nuh work done like this weh a do now. That’s a bad job,” he remarked.
“I used to do bridge building and you sign a contract for a limited time, and if you stay one day over that, they say you delay and start to take back money out of what you are to get,” the 94-year-old said.
Herman Latouche echoed a similar complaint, noting that the contractors have failed to deliver on the stop-start project.
“If it was the Chinese doing this work, I believe it would have been done already and it woulda done better off, too,” Latouche lamented, referencing the China Harbour Engineering Company that has undertaken inter-parish highway projects locally.
A commuter who asked not to be named told The Gleaner that he travels on the Junction to his family home in Port Maria, the St Mary capital.
He complained that the rehabilitation project has dragged on for too long.
“While there is a need to focus on fast-tracking widening the road, my biggest concern remains the absence of gabion baskets in areas where hills were cut into. If it rains heavily, there could be boulders that can and will cause more harm and damage than potholes,” he said.
Another three residents reported growing frustration with the pace of the rehabilitation of the thoroughfare.
They said their pockets have been burnt from additional fuel costs and extended travel times when the road is closed and they are forced to use alternative routes.