Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Porus fallout looms - Townfolk fearful that highway will divert traffic, stifle businesses

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey/Gleaner Writer

PORUS, Manchester:

The foreboding sight of tractors, backhoes, and other heavy equipment could toll the bell of doom for commerce in Porus.

Those are the fears harboured by small business owners and residents alike of the Manchester town whose lives and livelihoods will change – for good and bad – when a highway from May Pen, Clarendon, to Williamsfield, Manchester, is completed.

Construction will be overseen by the National Road Operating & Constructing Company to the tune of US$188 million, courtesy of the China EXIM Bank, and is expected to end in 2022.

Though some folk remain unaware of the looming change, others are seriously contemplating their fate.

“We can’t count the number of vehicles that pass here daily and stop for petrol or something from the store or stop at the tyre shop and car wash,” Annmarie Onfroy, an attendant at a service station in the mid-island town, told The Gleaner.

“With this highway, ... sales are going to be cut because people will stop and get what they want before they enter the highway or when they get off, and it won’t be in Porus town.”

Phase 1C of the highway will begin at the western end of the existing roundabout at May Pen, crossing the Rio Minho, and continue in a westerly direction, passing south of the Bustamante Highway and the communities of Four Paths, Osborne Store, Toll Gate, Clarendon Park, and on to St Toolies.

The existing Melrose Bypass will be incorporated into the new alignment and will be upgraded to a four-lane dual carriageway, ending near the Williamsfield roundabout.

Jamaica’s jobless rate is at a record low – 7.2 per cent, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica – with the gap between unemployed men and women closing fast, but that statistic is cold comfort for some workers who believe they might be out of a job when the highway gets into gear in the next two years.

“I may very well lose my job, and this is what I am holding on to, to ensure I am able to complete school,” said a store clerk who requested anonymity.

“The business is not very popular, but a lot of persons stop by en route to a lot of places. With this highway, the owners may decide to move, and if it is out of my reach, well, I may be out of a job,” the clerk added.

Fearful of development

Among the persons who are most fearful of what the development could bring are business owners who have operated in the town for more than 30 years. Sharon Murray, who has made a name for herself with a quaint restaurant and bar, is one such person.

“Though quite a lot of my customers are from the community and outskirts, I get a lot of people who are travelling to and from Kingston, and farther, and I’m sure they won’t be driving through the town anymore if there is a highway ... ,” Murray said.

“It is concerning because I am not in a position to relocate, but we have to just hope that even if the highway comes, it nuh affect us that bad.”

The fruit stalls of Porus and Scotts Pass are popular stops for cross-country travellers, offering a dependable livelihood for vendors such as Wayne Rowe. Fruit vending has been the mainstay of his family for generations, and he is looking towards the construction of the highway bypass with dread.

But member of parliament for South Manchester, Michael Stewart, said that talks are still ongoing and that no work can begin without further consultation with the residents.

“If the highway is going to bypass the town of Porus, a number of businesses will be negatively impacted,” he said.

Stewart, who was scheduled to have dialogue with stakeholders in St Toolies last Friday, said that he was lobbying to have the Porus main linked to an exit off the new highway.