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By Garfield Myers—-

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Fifteen months after its formal launch, the controversial Christiana bypass road is almost complete and residents of the north-eastern Manchester town are eagerly awaiting its opening.

When the Observer Central did a quick photo tour of the road on Friday, motor vehicles, including taxis, were seen cruising on the pristine one-kilometre, two-lane highway which boasts elaborate underpasses and culverts. It is expected to cost in the region of $1 billion when the final sums are calculated.

A section of the Christiana bypass in Manchester. (Photo: Gregory Bennett


Among the more intriguing questions is the effect the project will have on business in bustling Christiana. Member of Parliament Audley Shaw who, as minister of finance under the former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government assertively justified the project, has consistently said it will help to open up economic development in the town and its environs.

And in February of 2011, Patrick Wong, former chief executive officer of the National Works Agency, described it as “a development road for the town of Christiana so it (the town) can grow”.

The development aspect is something businessman Paul Scott Brown has obviously given a lot of thought. He believes that regardless of the arguments for and against the road, its completion now means it will provide the opportunity for the notoriously congested Christiana to “breathe” and grow.

“Some people may not like the idea, but we need to see how the town may best expand to areas opened up by the road,” said Scott Brown.

He identified the market as one facility which he believes should be relocated from the town centre. “Those are the little things we need to start looking at now,” he added.

As to whether his own businesses — which include a gas station, a bakery, restaurants, and a super mart — will benefit, Scott Brown, like many others in Christiana, is prepared to wait and see.

“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” he said. “It might take away a little business, but it won’t take away much.” In any case, he suggested, the long-term effect of an easing of traffic congestion should be good for the local economy.

“The more time you spend in traffic congestion, the less time for production,” he said.

Val Wint, another leading Christiana businessman and Shaw’s political opponent in last December’s parliamentary election, wonders whether the bypassing of the town by those travelling from Mandeville and other communities farther south to Trelawny and the north coast will hurt business.

“I suppose it could mean reduced business for Christiana,” he said, “but then again, Highway 2000 didn’t seem to hurt Old Harbour — it seems to be buzzing just the same.”

Added Wint: “The road itself seems quite beautiful… its effectiveness in serving the community is left to be seen.”

Retailer and restaurant operator Colin Gentles says the economic recession of the last several years means the bypass won’t make any difference.

“Everything down, so it nuh matter… the people who come here and buy don’t have no money; is only the big man have money, and politician who a tek it fi dem self…” he declared.

Doreen Tyme of the Shell gas station, clothes and jewellery retailers Natalie and Claudette Thomas (unrelated), and manager of the Lamplite Bar Imogene Bennett, all agree that reduced congestion will actually help business.

“Sometimes it can take half-an-hour (from one side of the town to the next),” said Tyme, “That’s a turn-off for everyone.”

It’s not yet clear when the road will be opened to the public. On Friday, Kang Chao, who described himself as a supervisor representing contractors China Harbour, noted in halting English that “we have some more work to do but not much” gesticulating towards a bulldozer levelling an area on the fringes of the road.

A source close to China Harbour confirmed that the work was close to completion but gave no exact timeline. “There is not a lot left to be done,” he said.

However, concerns linger. Men who identified themselves as workers at the site complained that they were not being paid in full for work done.

There has been violence too. Janice Moore, who lives just metres from the new road, complained bitterly that her son had been held without charge for well in excess of a week, following an alleged attack on one of the Chinese workers. Police say the man assaulted a Chinese engineer with a spade causing “grievous bodily harm”, but Moore claims her son acted in self-defence, having being attacked by three Chinese men — one armed with a knife.

And there are also continuing complaints about the displacement of residents as a result of the road and the levels of compensation or lack of it.

Gentles claimed he had been paid only “three months’ rent” by the authorities for a family he had been induced to accommodate at a house owned by him after they were displaced by the road last year.

Wint, who is among those who sold land to accommodate the road, complained that “90 per cent” of those who voluntarily gave up their land had still not been paid. “We were offered a morsel, but even that we have not received,” he claimed.

In some cases, he said, fences had not been rebuilt and there had also been negative environmental consequences such as “ponding” as a result of rainwater run-off from the road.



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