Fri | Oct 22, 2021

‘Don’t sidestep us!’

Grants Pen residents say they are disappointed over highway access

Published:Friday | July 16, 2021 | 12:07 AMShanna Monteith/Gleaner Writer

Tempers flared in Grants Pen, St Thomas, on Tuesday evening during a meeting between residents and representatives of the National Works Agency (NWA) on the proposed alignment of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP), which is marked for completion in 2022.

The multibillion-dollar project will see the rehabilitation of some 110 kilometres of roadway between Harbour View in St Andrew and Port Antonio in Portland, which is expected to bypass the community of just over 100 residents as sections of the roadway are realigned.

Residents, who had requested a meeting from the works agency, voiced their dissatisfaction with the decision to sidestep their community, only allowing access to the highway at a single entrance and exist point, some 400 metres from the community’s gate.

“The community is finished. It is done. One way in and out cannot work. We are going to suffer hard. The traffic is being diverted from our community and people will now have to go out of their way to come here, and that will affect businesses and even individuals here. It’s good that the improvement is coming, but it won’t benefit Grants Pen … we are being cut off from civilization,” said Jemel McGowan, one of several upset residents.

According to them, officials are more thoughtful of the new infrastructure than the human capital of their neighbourhood.

The folks, who argued that they were not made aware of the bypass beforehand, suggested allowing a filter lane so they can also access the main thoroughfare at both ends of the community.

Responding to this request, Communication and Customer Services Manager Stephen Shaw said, “We’ll be going 40 feet above the current roadway, so from a perspective of safety and from a technical and an economical feasible standpoint, the optimal solution lies at accessing the road at the eastern end. While we understand the issue, what you’re proposing cannot work. In order to get up to that 40 feet and to do so safely, you’d have to build a ramp all the way down to the sea. You’re not being disconnected, as there is access.”

The residents also raised concerns about whether storm waters from the roadway will be emptied into their neck of the woods.

A community member for nearly 60 years, Tensel Boyd warned that his homeland is in trouble if a proper drainage is not established for the SCHIP.

“The water that flows from the side of the highway into Grants Pen going to be a serious problem with the sea and land level in one, it’s going to drown us. Our community is in trouble,” he said.

Echoing these woes was councillor for the division, Edwin Marr.

“There is a major drain that leads from about half-mile up the hill leading down to Grants Pen, and that drain empties on the road in the community before it enters the sea. Since the infrastructure work began, we have not seen any form of work being done to rechannel that water. The community is now exposed to any amount of water. We are concerned as to what will happen to the small community of Grants Pen during the rainy season. Please explain where the water will empty… . You must go back to the drawing board,” he said.

The NWA committed to hosting an additional meeting with representatives of the community, to further address these concerns and share project-related plans.