The collapsing into the Belize Old River late last week of the embankment of a section of the Northern Highway, places the millions spent on the Marine Parade in more perspective. The highway emergency near Mile 7 on the way to the Philip Goldson International Airport from Belize City, is a warning. This vital piece of road has been deteriorating for years. The deterioration has been going on during a period when the traffic on it has been increasing steadily, even dramatically.
Not only do we have more traffic to and from the international airport as the economy expands and the tourism industry grows, but we have seen new communities spring up between Belize City and Sandhill. These include Belamas III and IV, Vista del Mar, Los Lagos, Fresh Pond and Maxboro. Ladyville, Lords Bank and Burrell Boom have, for their part, been steadily growing. Individual new homes and businesses along this piece of highway have grown in number.
The road is bad between Belize City and the Burrell Boom cutoff at Mile 13. Americans have told us that on a piece of road like this in the United States, drivers would be forbidden to drive more than 35 miles an hour. Yet Belizeans are driving buses, trucks, vans and cars at 60 miles an hour and more all day and all night on this piece of so-called highway, a road whose regulations stipulate that drivers should not be passing each other. They should be keeping single file on this narrow, two- lane road, but the yellow center line which should be notifying and warning drivers, has faded into invisibility for a long while now. The result is a high speed free for all. Traffic gets even more dangerous at rush hour in the mornings when thousands of people are trying to reach work and school in the old capital on time.
We are trying to give you the reasons why a modern, four-lane highway between Belize City and the airport should have been a matter of serious priority for the Government of Belize. It is for sure that the work would be expensive, because you are talking about a narrow piece of land which is low and flanked by bodies of water on the east (the sea) and the west (the river). It may be that the best engineering idea here would be an elevated causeway. It is not for us to say. But we can and will say that something has to be done, and, in fact, something should have been done years ago.
No one has come forward to say exactly how much it is the Marine Parade cost. It is a lovely stretch of road which was built on land reclaimed from the Caribbean Sea. Estimates of the cost of land reclamation and promenade construction have ranged from $15 million to $24 million. The project was built by Johnson International, a construction company owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft. The financing came from the Belize Bank, a bank owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft. The bill for loan and interest is being paid by the taxpayers of Belize. The Marine Parade project, originally a modest attempt to accommodate the buses from the Tourism Village, became an expensive dream designed to facilitate an extravagant tourism project which is supposed to connect Stake Bank and Drowned Caye to Belize City at the precise Marine Parade location. The details have never been presented to the people of Belize.
Every working day, at least three times a day, there is traffic congestion in the Belcan Bridge area. There has been a serious need for another bridge across the Haulover Creek, further up the creek between Lake Independence and Belama II. We have complained about the situation more than once before; but Marine Parade took priority.
Now the Northern Highway connection between the nation’s largest population center and the international airport is warning us that there is trouble there.
There was a time in previous PUP governments when they would conceive of public projects to benefit special cronies who were in financial problems. What we have seen in the last few years is worse.
Taxpayers’ monies are used to finance or guarantee projects whose intent is to make special cronies more wealthy than they already are. It is very disrespectful what has been going on, and the people of Belize have become more than angry. We who have eyes to see, we see.