Features — 17 August 2019
What a mad, mad, mad road

I’ve been looking at the research done by the environmentalists and the engineers for the project to rehabilitate the George Price Highway (GPH) between Roaring Creek and Benque Viejo, and I am impressed by the work they put in, the volumes they produced. I really am impressed by their efforts; their research covers from A to Z the impact the road would have during construction, and after. I don’t know the engineers, but I know three of the four names who worked on the environmental report, and I am not going to say anything bad about those guys.

I don’t think they are to blame for the end story. The studies are good. What we have on the ground is bad, really bad. This is a mad, mad, mad road.

It’s not common for a guy to get knocked down as he crossed the road mid-morning. That’s what happened to Mr. Margarito Vanegas in Teakettle several days ago. The story is that the gentleman was drinking, and he went to sleep on the verandah of a friend. When he woke up he made to cross the road and a truck knocked him down. I’m not trying to put the truck driver on the spot, but I mentioned in an earlier article that the speed of the traffic out here has notched up 10 mph and more. The people who envisioned this road designed it for more speed.

It’s like crazy to cross the road during the daytime. I could go back to the project report, but I remember what they reported was pretty close to my calculation of one vehicle passing through about every ten seconds. And now they are traveling 10 plus mph faster than before. So many vehicles traveling so fast, it’s at least twice as difficult to cross this road now.

You heard about the accident in my village involving a bicyclist and two motorists about a week ago. One motorist said the bicyclist was in the middle of the road and when he moved away to avoid him his vehicle slid into an oncoming vehicle. One of the vehicles ended up in the drain. You don’t want to end up in one of these drains. The drains on the rehabilitated highway are deeper than the drains in Belmopan, some parts being six feet deep or more.

 A few Belmopanese have lost their lives in the deep drains in Belmopan. Well, our villages are very different from Belmopan. The average traffic speed in BMP is 15 to 25 mph. Out here nobody is traveling less than 30 mph, and some are doing 50 and more. The road is dangerous as hell for pedestrians and cyclists, and it’s dangerous for motorists too.

The new GPH has no shoulders, very little space to pull off. It’s a trap. If a vehicle is coming at you because of a drunk driver, a sleepy/tired driver, or mechanical failure, there’s nowhere for you to go besides the drain, and it is definitely dangerous to run your vehicle down there.

It’s hard to understand why they raised the road so high. The feasibility report mentioned flooding at 8 spots – miles 48, 50, 53, 58, 62, 67, 71, and 73. A number of those areas could have been corrected with larger culverts and some good drains into the interior. They really didn’t have to raise the entire road.

 We had a pathway in our village and instead of improving what we had, and putting in pathways in the other villages, they made us equal – nobody on the GPH now has a pathway. The feasibility study mentions improving road safety and we could have concluded they were talking about pedestrians and cyclists when the report talked about, “reducing the level of accidents on this section through road safety measures where the road passes through towns and villages.” It turns out those were just good- sounding palabras, not for pedestrians, or cyclists, or motorists.

Estimates were put in for pathways and bus stops. First, let me tell you about bus stops. There’s one they put in 200 yards before Mile 49 and one they put in 200 yards past Mile 50. That’s more than a mile between bus stops. There are a few invalids who might have problems with that distance, but a half mile each way wouldn’t be an issue, if we didn’t have to walk it at night. We are not living in the safest times, so we don’t want our female folk being dropped off the bus so far away from home after sunset.

What makes it worse is that there is no safe path along the side of the highway. So, you are to walk the half mile to your home, at night, on the narrow shoulder of the road. The estimates called for some funds for pathways, but all they asked for was $300,000 for Section 1 of the project (the other sections have an allotment too) and that section is 10 miles. They obviously weren’t considering pathways along the length of the GPH.

We see what they are about. They’ve put in some raised pavement about 50 yards each side of the bus stops. My nose says they are going to paint a line and put in a little something, a slightly raised area like they have in Belmopan, on the shoulder of the highway, and that’s going to be our PATHWAY. We are supposed to set our children and grandchildren on their bikes, put them on this PATHWAY, and send them off to school.

It’s not like they don’t know we have young people living in these villages. To give you an idea of the number of people living alongside the GPH, the 2010 census (as published in the report) showed that three villages — Roaring Creek (population of 1,974), Camalote (population of 2,562), and Teakettle (population of 1,746) had over 6,000 people. They counted fifteen preschools and primary schools and university campuses along this stretch of road. Do they think we just stay in our houses, don’t go anywhere?

I promised to show you pictures of this horror out here, but today I’ll close with this story. Years ago, when the PUP was in power and Dr. Henry Canton was the Minister of Works, I went south on the Hummingbird Highway, which was being rehabilitated, and when I passed through Armenia I saw the Ministry of Works (MoW) had put in a pathway for the folk there.

Armenia is a new Belizean village. I’m a human being. I have thoughts. Then I said, no, this new Belizean village has a pathway because they are rehabbing the road, not because the government thinks that their children are worth more than the children in the villages on the Western Highway (now GPH). When you double the roundabout to enter BMP on Constitution Drive, look south and you will see another nice pathway, this one to Las Flores. Yap.

When you pass through Hattieville, take a look on the south side of the highway and you will see a pathway in the bush. They have so many scrub boards (vibrators) and traffic ramps in Hattieville the people don’t use the pathway.  I have my beefs with the PUP, but I’ll give them points for respecting the lives of our less well-off folk, in the instances mentioned. Now the UDP comes rehabbing roads and they obliterate our pathway. They said they were the caring, sharing party.

Ouch, I put down my pen late Tuesday evening to go relax in my front yard with a little drink, and enjoy the moon coming up over the trees, when I noticed traffic backing up on the highway. Breathe a sigh of relief because there are no reports of a fatality or anyone suffering major injuries. The information I got is that a lowboy and a bus were involved and the cab of the lowboy went down into the deep drain, while the rest of the truck was across the road.

This road is mad. If you could measure stress on a meter the reading for this road would be sky high. Whatever safety features they plan to put in, they are taking their time about it. Whatever they have in mind will not be the equivalent of a pathway beside the highway, but we’ll take what they have, and then we’ll have to get in some engineers to see what can be done about a sensible pathway, where people can walk safely, that children can ride their bikes/walk to school safely on, where joggers can get in their exercise safely.

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Deshawn Swasey

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