Stray animals, fencing theft among concerns on new highway leg

TOLL GATE, Clarendon — Even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness officially opened the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000 on Thursday, a dog neatly perched itself atop the jersey barrier about 50 metres from the ribbon cutting, raising concern about the risk of stray animals on the high-speed road.

The police and two politicians raised concern about stray animals on sections of the road, which motorists will use toll-free until the end of this year.

Head of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Gary McKenzie, said stray animals on highways pose a serious risk.

“They are always very dangerous to especially motorists and certainly on a highway like the one we are speaking of, it is not desirable. That is something that we are working on jointly with the community as is being said animals have to be protected, secured. It cannot be that they are just allowed to roam,” he told the Jamaica Observer on Friday.

Following the opening of the highway, there have been reported sightings of goats and dogs straying onto the road.

Efforts by the Sunday Observer to get a response on the issue from the National Road Operating & Constructing Company (NROCC) — which is responsible for overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Jamaica’s highways — were unsuccessful up to press time on Saturday.

McKenzie said he is aware of efforts to continue fencing the highway to reduce the likelihood of stray animals on it.

“I know that the developers of the Highway are in the process of trying their best to secure the highway. I know there have been sections of it that have been fenced. I know that work is continuing where that is concerned. We have to get to a point where we are able to drive without having to fear that animals may be on the roadway,” he said.

Councillor Claudia Morant-Baker (Jamaica Labour Party, Porus Division) said the presence of stray animals on the highway is due to the road being built through farming communities.

“It is a concern for us, because even during the opening on Thursday we identified that animals are straying on. I spoke with some residents from Trinity (near Porus) on Friday morning and they told me that once they see it is officially open, they will ‘catch up their animals’.

“We wish that persons would do this responsible measure, because at the end of the day barbed wire is being used, if chain link goes on it is going to be missing [stolen] as we have seen along the previous highway,” she said.

She said the use of barbed wire fencing is inadequate to keep away some animals.

“With that now animals are able to creep through, which is a serious cause for concern for us. I don’t know what can be done to mitigate against that, because if it is the barb wire that remains you are going to have the goats and the dogs going through. You probably wouldn’t find the cows [breaching the fencing], unless people cut it,” she said.

“The highway impacts eight districts across the Porus division, it is a farming area. Also, in Clarendon you will see a lot of farmers as well,” added the councillor.

Over the years, there have been instances where the fences on the east-west highway, which were erected to keep out pedestrians and stray animals, were cut to allow people to walk onto the highway. That has led to fatal and serious crashes.

ACP McKenzie is urging motorists to be on the lookout for stray animals.

“The reality is that you may see animals, because of the areas that the roads runs through, it is very important that the necessary precaution be taken in terms of driving at a reasonable speed and if people drive at that speed on that section of the highway then they are able to see ahead of them and will be able to make a decision in terms of braking and avoiding these stray animals,” he said.

“We have to take precautions at this point as we seek to treat with the stray animals. Once the stray animals are seen, the police will not leave them like that. The police intend to find the owners, the requisite help to have them removed from the highway, because the priority is to ensure safe passage,” added McKenzie.

Clarendon South Western Member of Parliament Lothan Cousins, whose constituency has most of the highway’s alignment, pointed to the landmark May 2013 ruling against toll operators in the Danielle Archer v Jamaica Infrastructure Operator Limited.

“The genesis for the rationale of fencing the highway came out of an incident years ago where an attorney was going home one night and met in an accident. She took the toll operators to court, she was successful, and if you realise when you are driving from Kingston all the way to Old Harbour the highway is properly fenced on both sides. There are signs placed alerting the attention of motorists to the likelihood of the trespass of cattle,” he explained.

Cousins, like Morant-Baker said the highway passes through farming communities.

“We cannot blame the residents (for stray animals) of the surrounding communities, because they were there long before the highway. An assessment would have been done to identify that the area is a farming area and that the highway is going through there,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the toll operator to ensure that there is sufficient fencing to prevent accidents, because in the event of an accident, injury, loss of life, unfortunate as it may be, it will be the operator that will be held responsible and will be liable for any damages,” added Cousins, who is also an attorney-at-law.

He reiterated his view that more aspects of the highway should have been completed before it was opened to the public.

“It goes right back to my argument that the highway was never prepared for the opening and that by virtue of the fact that we are now having these issues. This rush opening might very well endanger the lives of the motoring public,” he said.

“It would be irresponsible if a Government were to have opened the highway knowing that the fencing was inadequate and then somebody loses their life, it is the Government or whoever opened that highway that should be blamed for it,” added Cousins.

He pointed out safety concerns, which he hopes, will be addressed soon.

“The dogs and other stray animals. The inadequate fencing. The excessive bushing and foliage, which in the event that somebody is coming home at night and there is an unfortunate mechanical issue and they have to stop then their life may be at risk,” he said.

“There is also the issue of improper lighting that needs to be addressed, so why rush and open a highway with all of these outstanding issues. Why rush?” he asked.

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. It 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.

The Sunday Observer was also told by a reliable source that there were security concerns after a section of fencing at the Toll Gate toll plaza building was stolen. Arrangements are said to be ongoing for securing key infrastructure on the highway.

McKenzie said police have been deployed to target those in breach of the Road Traffic Act on the highway.

“We aim to ensure that there is safe travel by doing so we will try to be as conspicuous as possible in terms of being seen and providing that kind of reassurance to drivers,” he said.

He said the use of GPS navigation apps to show motorists the location of the police doesn’t bother him.

“I personally would not make it an issue. The fact of the matter is that the number one responsibility for the police is to ensure safe movement… if we are present and people know that we are present there is no issue. I know that in terms of enforcement, they try to detect whether or not the police are on, so that they can slow down and when they pass the police some people speed,” he said.

“What we want to say to people, is that they should not adopt an approach where they are just playing by the rules [based] off the presence of the police. What we want them to adopt is a kind of consistent, responsible behaviour where whether or not the police is seen or whether or they know that the police is there, that they travel on the route within the speed limit and within conformity with other rules that may exist,” added ACP McKenzie.

“The truth is that the police cannot stop the use of technology, so we have to do our job by being present and where persons are observed or detected to be breaching the rules then we take the appropriate action,” he said.