Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other officials broke ground on Saturday to signal the start of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP).
The project will include the rehabilitation of approximately 110 kilometres of roadway from Harbour View in St. Andrew to Port Antonio in Portland, and 26 kilometres from Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in St. Thomas.
A second portion of the project will see the extension of the East-West toll road (P.J. Patterson Highway) from May Pen in Clarendon to Williamsfield in Manchester, part of Highway 2000, which started two decades ago.
The total cost of SCHIP is US$384-million. Of that sum, $195 million will be spent on the eastern portion of the road work, while the remaining $189 million dollars will be spent on the Highway 2000 extension.
The project will be executed by China Harbour Engineering (CHEC).
Speaking at the official launch in Yallahs, St. Thomas, Prime Minister Holness said the project forms part of the government’s strategic development plan for stimulating growth in the eastern end of the island, and increasing commerce and spurring development.
He said, while the project is not similar to the concept initially envisaged, the new arrangement is a comprehensive plan to ensure that the road and expenditure are sustainable.
“We are putting in a road that every single citizen in St. Thomas and Portland can drive on to come into Kingston without paying a toll. It’s all about being strategic… so it makes economic sense,” he said.
Mr. Holness said the new roadway will improve connectivity which is key to ensuring that producers can be linked to markets, workers to jobs, students to schools and the sick to hospitals.
“Reducing the distance between people, market, services and knowledge is a great part of what economic growth is all about. The flow of goods, capital, technology and people will drive economic growth and create a broader space for development and prosperity for all,” the Prime Minister said.
He said the proposed infrastructure will assist in promoting economic opportunities and reduce the poverty rate in St. Thomas.
Accordingly, he said the government will be taking steps to ensure that the project’s execution is closely monitored to prevent delays in its completion within the stipulated timeline and budget, and that the work is of the highest standard.
In his remarks, Vice President for China Communications Construction Company Limited Chen Zhong noted that the project’s implementation will significantly upgrade the country’s road network while providing greater access to the island’s capital and other parishes.
“With the construction of the Southern Coastal Highway, it is not only the roads and bridges that we will build, but also the connection, trust and friendship that we will make together. Not only will transportation improve, but also opportunity and prosperity will be further developed in this region,” he said.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness also said he will be asking the Integrity Commission to closely monitor the implementation of the project to ensure that it is not targeted by criminal elements.
He acknowledged that traditionally, infrastructural development in the country has been negatively affected by criminal elements over the years.
He therefore served notice that he was prepared to deploy members of the Jamaica Defence Force to the construction site to prevent criminals disrupting this project