PRIME Minister Andrew Holness on Monday signed a $163-million road repair contract for the approximately 1.8-kilometre stretch between Friendship and Hurlock in St James and said he is not insensitive to public discontent with the state of roads,which has fuelled a series of demonstrations in recent weeks.
“I want every Jamaican citizen to [know] that I understand your frustration with your bad roads, with Jamaica’s bad roads… when you are moved to the point of a demonstration where you feel that there is no other way to get the attention of the Government, the attention of your representative, and sometimes it boils over into real anger. I want to tell you that I understand and I appreciate it,” he said.
“I have been noticing that there has been an increase in the number of demonstrations and protests. It’s a part of our democracy, I appreciate it. I pay attention to every one of them… I don’t want my Jamaican brothers and sisters to feel that they are out there in rural parts of the country and the Government doesn’t pay attention to them,” he added.
Hours before the contract was signed, people living in communities along the heavily used road between Friendship and John’s Hall in St James blocked the thoroughfare and vented frustration about the length of time it is taking to fix the road.
That protest followed others in recent weeks over poor road conditions across the country.
Monday’s contract-signing will facilitate an upgrade under phase three of road works being undertaken on the 19-kilometre stretch from Fairfield to Point in the St James East Central constituency.
Admitting that he, too, has experienced the deplorable state of some roads, especially in rural areas as he carries out his duties across Jamaica, the prime minister said it is not that the Government does not know about the road conditions, “but… we simply do not have the budget to fix all the roads all at once”.
“What this Government has been doing, above everything else and for which we cannot in any way be reasonably criticised, is to improve our wherewithal by improving and increasing our fiscal capacity,” he explained.
“We are managing the economy, growing the economy, increasing our revenue collection, protecting our revenue, so that we have more resources to deal with your roads,” he said.
He argued the Government has to be “very strategic” with the budget, noting that the first strategy employed is to improve roads that carry the heaviest volumes of traffic.
“So, if you look right across Jamaica you will see significant investments in major thoroughfares that are now carrying high volumes or designed to carry high volumes… and increase your mobility and connectivity. It doesn’t mean that we do this to the exclusion of your local subsidiary and secondary roads. We do make allocations to treat with local roads, secondary roads — that comes through the parish councils and… through the National Works Agency,” he said.
Holness argued that in almost all constituencies across Jamaica, local roads are being repaired, “but it is simply not at the pace, at the speed at which you and I would want it”.
He pointed out that this year, the budget for road repairs, maintenance and rehabilitation for the National Works Agency (NWA) is approximately $4.5 billion.
This third phase of the rehabilitation project is a partnership between the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, through the NWA.
Member of Parliament for St James East Central Edmund Bartlett had first announced the contract- signing last week Thursday as he addressed the Universal Service Fund community Wi-Fi launch in John’s Hall in the parish.
Bartlett, who is also the minister of tourism, said that the TEF had allocated $100 million towards the project.
In 2019, through a phased approach, the NWA started the rehabilitation of the 6.1-kilomotre stretch of road between the Fairfield Bridge and the Hurlock Bridge in St James. To date, approximately $200 million has been spent to upgrade just under four kilometres of the road. This was completed under the first and second phases of the programme.
These projects involved extensive drainage improvement and significant repairs to the road surface.