The Most Beautiful Jamaica North-South Highway

By Xi Yuan
  [Jamaica] IRENA COUSINS 

Though Caribbean island nation Jamaica is a well-known tourist destination, for years the mountainous terrain at the center of the island, complicated geological conditions and poorly-maintained roads hampered its north-south traffic. Every year in the rainy season there were floods, disrupting traffic and impeding economic development.

Construction of a north-south highway started but came to a halt due to technological constraints and lack of funds. Then China Harbor Engineering Co. Ltd. (CHEC) stepped in with investment and assisted the Jamaican Government in completing the Jamaica North-South Highway.

Stretching from the west of Kingston, Jamaica's capital, to the Caribbean Sea northwards, the highway has been called the most beautiful highway in the country.

Jamaican Town Chief's Chinese Friends

Spanish Town is the largest town in the Parish of St. Catherine. Sydney Rose, chief of the town and councilor of the parish, was excited about the Jamaica North-South Highway, and yet found himself in the invidious position of having to persuade the local residents to relocate so that the highway could be built. Some of them were unwilling to move; some demanded an astronomical compensation. Rose had to protect the interests of the locals, and at the same time, ensure the project would proceed as scheduled.

One day, early in the morning, he went to discuss the relocation program with Wang Leilei, one of CHEC's engineers. Wang explained the scheme in detail to the town chief, saying that he would make every effort to assist the local government in satisfying the residents. "We have reached agreements with 11 families. The next step is to settle all accounts," he said. Later, Rose joined Wang's team to visit the families that would have to be relocated to explain the details to them.

The Jamaica North-South Highway, the most beautiful highway in the country

One of them, James Hanson, was demanding a high amount of compensation. Previously, he had even shown the negotiating officials the door. When Wang's team came to him, at first he refused to talk with them unless his conditions were met. But after Wang explained the policies and laws to him patiently for more than two hours, his manner softened. After repeated negotiations, he finally agreed to the money being offered.

Rose would always tell the locals, "China is a friend of Jamaica. The Chinese friends have come to build roads for us. We must not let them suffer losses." Although the highway took three years, the project was supported by the local government and people during the construction.

A CHEC employee explains the highway project to a local resident to be relocated.

"This is My Highway"

"It's my highway," Andre, a construction worker at the Jamaica North-South Highway, said proudly to his friends.

During the construction, Andre learned many skills from CHEC's Chinese technicians, such as steel bar binding, template support, safety protection and equipment operation.

"We must concentrate, follow orders, and speed up the work. This is our own highway," Andre would tell his Jamaican co-workers every morning before they started work.

He trained dozens of workers in steel bar binding, template support and safety protection. "I feel happy to see my fellow countrymen learning more and earning more," he said.

Andre was promoted to lead local workers to build crash barriers and drainage pipelines. He arranged the work of the whole team quite well.

Andre examines the inner coat of varnish of a steel bellow.

Since he got the highway construction job, Andre's life has started improving. "Earlier, when I worked as a handyman, my three children did not have enough food or clothes. This job changed my life," he said, adding that it has also enabled him to renovate his thatched hut. He plans to learn how to repair equipment from the Chinese technicians so that he can work on more construction projects in the future.

A Jamaican Employee's Letter to CHEC

The highway project has benefited the locals, improving their lives, skills and confidence. A Jamaican employee wrote a letter of appreciation to the project office, telling CHEC how the job changed his life:

I am Johnson from the routine maintenance department, CHEC's Jamaica office. Before I got this job, I went through a rough time, unem-ployed, depressed and desperate. My elder sister passed away, leaving her three-year-old son in my care. I also have my daughter to raise. My entire family depends on my income. I felt I was falling into a bottomless pit, surrounded by complete darkness.

Jamaican employees working at the Jamaica North-South Highway Co. Ltd.

The misery ended when I passed the interview for the Jamaica North-South Highway project by CHEC. I saw light again.

At first, I was a cleaner. I kept learning and worked hard, always reminding myself of my responsibility. Now I have learned more skills, such as repairing pipelines, operating electric appliances and changing door locks.

With the income from this job, I have paid off my debt, bought a car, and saved some money. As I can support my family, I feel more confident. I see my value. I sincerely hope that CHEC will develop more projects in Jamaica so that I can continue to work here and lead a better life.

Most Beautiful Highway and Economic Engine

Why is the Jamaica North-South Highway called the most beautiful highway in the country? Because it promotes innovation, technology, eco-friendliness and public welfare.

During construction, new technologies, techniques and ideas were applied to cut costs and improve quality.

A technology team from CHEC headquarters and top Chinese geologists designed how to prevent landslides. Finally, they decided to build sheet pile walls. For bridge pile foundations, third-party testing experts were hired to address technology bottlenecks for large longitudinal slopes. A technology team from CHEC's San Francisco office, technologists from American engineering firm AECOM, and experts from the Texas Department of Transportation in the United States worked to improve design quality and precision.

A group photo of Chinese and local employees

In addition to the highway project, CHEC Jamaica built roads for local communities, provided scholarships to students with economic difficulties, and renovated campuses for mountainous primary schools. CHEC created a positive image in Jamaica by integrating its own development with local social and economic progress through win-win cooperation. In 2015, CHEC won the Special Honour Award for Business of Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica's mainstream daily newspaper.

The Jamaica North-South Highway is also a local economic engine.

At its official opening ceremony in 2016, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness believed that "this roadway … secures a brighter, more prosperous future for Jamaica."

After the highway opened to traffic, the driving time between Kingston and Las Chorreras in the north, a tourist destination, has been reduced from three hours to 40 minutes. A large number of European and American tourists, who usually spent their holidays in northern Jamaica, are now visiting the southern part of the country. Tour buses ply between the two cities. With the highway's higher logistics efficiency, 500 local enterprises now use it for their business.

Smooth traffic has benefited tourism, transportation as well as many other industries to varying extents, such as real estate, construction materials, automobile, packaging, food processing and agriculture. The highway project created thousands of direct and indirect jobs for Jamaica.

The Jamaica North-South Highway is a good start to China-Jamaica cooperation. In the coming years, many commercial projects are being planned, including commercial centers, logistics parks, industrial parks, hotels and real estate companies. As the cooperation deepens, Jamaica will have more opportunities and bigger markets for its development.


Project Overview

The 68-km Jamaica North-South Highway has four enclosed lanes (two-way), a designed speed of 80 km/h, and 24-hour real-time monitoring. It stretches from the Caymanas Industrial Park in western Kingston in the south to Las Chorreras in the north.

The project was completed by China Harbor Engineering Co. Ltd. between 2013-2016. Due to the efficient, high-quality and safe construction, it won the Jamaica Institution of Engineers' Project of the Year Award for three successive years from 2014.