TROY, Trelawny — Schools resume classes on Monday but children near here remain at risk almost four months after Prime Minister Andrew Holness said his Government would “fast-track” the replacement of a collapsed bridge which had spanned the Hector’s River.
Since the Troy Bridge collapsed in August 2021, school children and other residents have been using makeshift methods, including a fallen tree and a zipline comprising a rope and bucket to cross the river.
Last September, Holness told the House of Representatives that he would be personally visiting the area. However, residents have said that the Prime Minister has not honoured that promise.
Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western, Mikael Phillips said the Government is moving too slowly in dealing with the problem following the collapse of the 125-year-old bridge.
“The Prime Minister made a commitment to come and visit the area to see what people, especially the school children and the farmers, are experiencing. The situation has gotten worse since September,” Phillips told the Jamaica Observer last week.
“More of the banking has washed away. The river itself has become even more [difficult] to cross even when it is not in spate,” he added.
The risky makeshift footbridge connects residents in the neighbouring communities of Cowick Park in northwestern Manchester to Troy in southern Trelawny. Since the collapsed bridge, residents have had to do a 15-mile alternative commute.
Like Phillips, residents and school leaders on either side of the collapsed bridge are expecting that their plight will be addressed in the upcoming financial year starting April, but are demanding speedy preparatory action.
“It is disappointing as to how we deal with emergencies or what it is that the Prime Minister may deem as an emergency, because we have seen in other matters, things being dealt with expeditiously when it matters to the powers that be,” said Phillips.
“I am not getting the impression that after the Prime Minister answered my questions in Parliament in September that they have gone any further, if it is that they are waiting on the next financial year, then I would expect that it (new bridge) would get to that point of procurement,” added Phillips.
When contacted for an update on the replacement for the Troy Bridge National Works Agency Communications Manager Stephen Shaw said only the design of the bridge was ready.
“We have to take the cue from [the] Government, we have done that (design) and that is the last thing. The next thing would be for us to receive funding and then we move to procurement and that is what we are awaiting,” said Shaw.
Phillips, who is also Opposition spokesperson on transport and works, reiterated the expense incurred by parents forced to transfer their children to schools far away in Mile Gully and Balaclava.
“While it (bridge) is not on the front burner of those who can make it happen, the residents in Manchester and in [Trelawny] are suffering, if you look at what has taken place at the schools. The students have been transferred to other schools, so students have to go further now to attend school than if the bridge was there,” he said.
“It has affected commerce for many people living on both sides (Trelawny and Manchester). The teachers who can’t transfer as easily as the students are still suffering. I asked the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education (Fayval Williams) some time ago in Parliament, is there any room or possibility for them to assist the teachers in that extra travelling that they have to take to go to school. Nothing has been communicated since then,” he added.
Phillips claimed the ministry has been “so slow on finding an option for students to get home that parents felt more confident in transferring their children to the other schools and paying more”.
However, acting principal at Troy Primary Keresha McIntosh told the Sunday Observer that at least one family has had to resort to their child using the makeshift bridge.
“Things remain the same. Nothing has changed. Most of the children left and have gone to other schools, as they aren’t able to cross the bridge. We still have a few students attending the school. I know one is returning, based on a financial situation. The [parents] had no choice than to send back the child, because the child had to go so far for school,” she said.
She, too, is hopeful that the Troy Bridge is up for consideration in the Government’s next budget.
Principal at Clarence Brimm Early Childhood Institution (located in Troy) Pauline Brown is also hopeful, but maintains that a footbridge should be installed until the Troy Bridge is replaced.
“If they had gotten the footbridge then at least the farmers would have a chance to walk across and people who work in Troy and Christiana that live across the bridge could always walk across and come into Troy to get a vehicle,” she said.
“I think they (Government) should tell the people what their plans are for them, if they are going to give them the bridge or if they are going to give them a footbridge. They need something concrete to go on, because this has been going on for too long and it is time now that the people get something tangible from the Government,” she added.
Phillips said he reminded Holness of the commitment to visit the area during the handing over of two social houses last month in his constituency.
“He (Holness) made another promise that he will still come, but we are months away from his initial commitment and we are now in 2023 and we are no further,” said Phillips.
Dulcy Bromfield, a resident of Cowick Park was also disappointed.
“All now him (Holness) nuh come here yet. We not hearing anything, it come in like we just in a the jungle or the desert. The place (makeshift area to cross-river) getting steeper and steeper to step down, it really bad. They need to do better for us, after we anuh wild animal,” she said.
Bromfield’s two sons attend Troy High and are in danger when crossing the river on the makeshift footbridge.
“It is the same old story, because when the rain fall them have to travel around (15-mile route) with the teacher, it is a good thing he (teacher) is living next door to me and he is a good gentleman, so him help me out good when the rain fall, but when the time is dry they have to cross,” she said.
Last June a 14-year-old high school student had a near-death experience when he fell in the river and almost drowned. He was rescued by his father.
Bromfield pointed out that residents are at a loss.
“We are missing out on a lot of things, because we cannot cross to do business in Troy and Christiana. Before, it would only cost us $600 to go and come. We still have to be travelling around this long route and things get expensive. Every time we travel is now over $3,000 and that is only for one person,” she said.
“It is a terrible situation. Dem can’t just leave us like that like we are nobody at all. Them a treat we like we deh a Afghanistan, it nuh pretty,” she said.
“We have people weh would a come look for us and sometimes we would get goodies. We can’t get it, because dem [people] not taking this long road,” she added.
Bromfield said that farmers are suffering.
“We nah get nuh price for the yam. It is a difficult situation, it is very terrible,” she said.