Cousins claims ‘political sabotage’ on highway project

FOUR PATHS, Clarendon — Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) for Clarendon South Western Lothan Cousins is claiming that his constituency is being politically sabotaged with four roads affected by the construction of the May Pen to Williamsfield highway yet to be repaired.

Cousins told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that the roads, namely Comfort Road, Denbigh Drive, Duke Street and an area referred to as Zeddie Road have not been repaired despite continued complaints made by him that the roads were damaged during the construction of the highway.

He claimed that roads in Manchester constituencies represented by Government MPs that were affected by the highway’s constructions have been repaired.

“… It is political sabotage, it is political victimisation, because every single road in Manchester is fixed except for mine [in Clarendon] and I am not going to any meeting, any opening,” Cousins said, in reference to Thursday’s planned opening ceremony for the highway.

The National Road Operating & Constructing Company (NROCC) — which is responsible for overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Jamaica’s highways — on September 1 issued a media advisory stating the May Pen to Williamsfield leg will be opened on September 14.

Managing director at NROCC Stephen Edwards told the Jamaica Observer that repairs will be done to the four roads in short order.

“It is important to note that the project will now enter the defects and liabilities phase. During this phase the contractor is contractually obligated to address any project-related defects, including damage to local roads. This provision in the contract ensures that the people of Jamaica will receive the highest quality work for the investment that has been made. NROCC kindly asks the communities in the vicinity of the newly constructed May Pen to Williamsfield Highway for their understanding as the project’s team works assiduously to address these matters,” he explained.

Cousins is calling on NROCC and the contractor for the highway project, China Harbour Engineering Company, to remedy the deplorable roads affected by the construction in Clarendon South Western.

“They (NROCC) said they can’t give us an update as to how soon it will be, because China Harbour is responsible. How can China Harbour be responsible?” he asked.”This is sickening!”

“… Right now they are trying to open the highway and the people are militant. We have several of the roads that were damaged that have not yet been sorted out to include the underpasses, but yet still they have gone to Manchester after they completed the Clarendon section [of the highway] and they have done every road in Manchester and they have not done ours. It appears to be deliberate and political,” said Cousins.

The Opposition MP said he has sent letters to NROCC complaining about the issue.

“I spoke with Stephen Edwards from NROCC, to be fair to him, [and] he has been very responsive. I think he has listened to the complaints. He is very professional, but our challenge with the contractors…” said Cousins.

However, Edwards said Cousins was repeatedly told that the roads would be fixed.

“This was communicated to MP Cousins by way of letters dated October 18, 2022. NROCC’s commitment to have the contractor repair any damage that was done to the local roads during construction was reiterated during the Standing Finance Committee meeting of Parliament on March 1, 2023, where MP Cousins was present. NROCC has also communicated this commitment to MP Cousins verbally, and as recently as September 5, 2023. NROCC has also communicated these facts to the public through social media, traditional media and community meetings. The referenced commitment was reiterated by way of letter to Mr Cousins on September 11, 2023, and by telephone, also on September 11, 2023,” said Stephenson.

The May Pen to Williamsfield highway project — which will reduce travel time from Kingston to Mandeville and other points west — was originally scheduled for completion in October 2022. This was then changed to January 2023 and later March 2023.

The highway project includes the design and construction of approximately 23 kilometres of a four-lane, arterial divided highway on a new alignment and the upgrading of approximately five kilometres of the existing Melrose Hill Bypass to a four-lane, rural, arterial divided highway.