Highway pain in St Thomas but NWA urges motorists to hold strain
Construction on the St Thomas leg of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project has been a torment for several major distribution companies, significantly impacting logistics and other operational activities.
But National Works Agency (NWA) CEO E.G. Hunter has said that the State-run entity is managing several moving parts that, while negatively impacting businesses, will be worth it in the long run.
“Right now, the road situation is a nightmare,” Seprod Limited Group CEO Richard Pandohie told The Gleaner on Monday.
“The work has been taking longer than expected and it is happening at both ends of the parish – Portland end and Kingston end. So no escape from the trauma, but we hold on to the hope that the end gets nearer every passing day,” he added.
He said that the company is optimistic that the highway and general road upgrade in progress will be a “massive game changer” to the parish and to its business.
Pandohie said for many years, thoroughfares in St Thomas have remained deplorable, posing a significant cost to Seprod as the major operator in the parish with sugar and dairy farm and factory investments.
“In fact, a few years when we made the decision to consolidate our dairy plant in Bog Walk, a major driver in the decision was the road condition in St Thomas,” said Pandohie.
He said that this not only affected the cost of moving goods and raw materials but also presented higher transportation bills for its employees.
It also made attracting persons to work in St Thomas very difficult, he said.
Purity Bakery CEO Anthony Chang said the under-construction main road continues to add to the overheads of the company, which does not have the option of pulling its operations until work is completed.
“Logistically, it adds to your cost and it adds to your time. The time is cost and wear and tear is cost. So those two factors add to the cost of distribution. It’s not helping now because we’re in inflationary times,” said Chang.
The mandate for higher efficiencies has been even more important as costs mount. He said fully functional infrastructure aids in suppressing costs for consumers, retailers, and companies.
However, Chang said that although distributors often absorb costs as for as long as possible, many will have to ultimately pass those on to consumers.
Head of operations at Wisynco Group, Craig Clare, told The Gleaner that it has become difficult for the company to find deliverymen willing to operate in southeastern Jamaica.
He said many are not will accept the vehicular wear and tear caused by ramshackle roads.
Clare said the double whammy of rainy weather worsens the impact on Wisynco’s operations.
“This week we foresee a lot of disruption in service because of the rain and the roadwork. It has been disruptive, but it has not brought us to a complete halt,” Clare said.
Hunter said while he understands the challenges businesses are facing, the schedule given for the completion of the road still holds.
He said that there is a slippage in the area but nothing “catastrophic” to the project’s timeline. The project is to be completed by March 2023.
Hunter said the NWA is making steady progress, with several sections of the road already paved, though it remains cautious about the impact the hurricane season may have.
“It will have an impact, but we’re trying to minimise that. Overall, we do acknowledge that there is some inconvenience to the public, [but] it is in the nature of what we are doing,” the NWA CEO said, noting that pipes are being installed for water supply as well as a sewerage system, drains, and fibre-optic cables.
“What we’re going through now is a normal scenario when it comes to implementing this level of infrastructure ... . We understand their anxiety, but in exchange for a relatively short time period of disruption, they will have decades of enjoyment of infrastructure,” he said.