By William Ysaguirre
The Government of Belize has enlisted the technical support of the South Korean Government in preparing a National Transportation Master Plan.
The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities (MESTPU) unveiled this to private and public sector interests at the Radisson Fort George Hotel last Friday morning.
The Ministry made the request for the assistance in February of 2013 and the Korea Development Institute, the University of Seoul and the TESO Engineering Company of South Korea came up with the plan.
Minister of Science and Technology, Senator Joy Grant explained that since tourism is a prime mover of the Belizean economy, infrastructure improvements to roads used for tourism were a priority, and two roads considered were the old Northern Highway to Maskall, which tour companies use to access the Mayan site at Altun Ha, and the longer, steeper road to the Caracol Archaeological Site in the Mountain Pine Ridge, which becomes impassable in the rainy season.
Altun Ha’s regular use by cruise tourism and the shorter distance gave Altun Ha priority over Caracol, Grant explained. Eleven archaeological sites were considered for popularity and ease-of-access by road in this process, including Cahal Pech, Xunatuniuch, Nim Li Punit, Cerros, Lamanai, Lubaantun, El Pilar, Barton Creek and Tunichil.
Another priority area is accessibility to tourism resorts in southern Belize, so paving the Coastal Highway from La Democracia to the former Melinda Forest Station was another priority area, since it would greatly reduce the travel time to those tourism destinations.
Grant acknowledged that as the Ministry of Science, and Belize being home to the CARICOM Climate Change Center (CCCC), the plan could not afford to ignore the effects of global warming and sea level rise on roads on the coastal plain. She noted that rising sea-levels might mean that a causeway could be an alternative for that stretch of the Philip Goldson Highway leading from Belize City toLadyville as a more long-term solution. But with costs salways a factor, the plan must first address what is doable and can be accomplished with the resources available.
Economic development of the agricultural sector is also a part of the plan, particularly for the Cayo district where the Green Tropic sugar factory is to be built, and some 20,000 acres will be planted in sugar cane. This will require roads for transportation to the factory.
As to the need for an alternative highway north, such as paving an existing secondary road from Yalbac to Orange Walk to allow travel from the south and west to the north without using the Philip Goldson Highway, that is a more long-term plan.
Regarding the crowding on public buses and even water taxis and the pier accident at Caye Caulker over the Easter holidays, Minister Grant acknowledged that while there is a need to regulate the bus operators for greater public safety, that issue lies more squarely under the purview of the Ministry of Transport and is not an immediate part of the scope of the national plan. The plan will evaluate all sources of financing available to complete the indicated improvements by 2030.
Jung Wook Kim of the Korea Development Institute (KDI), Eui Young Shon from the University of Seoul and Seol Joo Kim of the TESO Engineering Company of South Korea, presented the scope of their work plan, which required the collection of local data and opinions, as well as anticipation of future conditions, factoring sources of financing.
They drew on the Korean experience that must first consider the national economic development plan and what would be the transportation needs to develop the economy, taking into account an expressway network, a national road network including rural roads for agriculture, water and air transport, including seaports and airports for tourism.
The planners also studied the existing road network and how it increased the travel distance over the actual linear distance between communities.
An example of this is the road distance from Belize City to Dangriga, which is 189 percent longer than the actual linear distance of the two towns. For want of a direct road from Benque to Punta Gorda, the road travel distance is 156 percent longer than the linear distance separating the two towns, or from Placencia to Punta Gorda, where the road increases the travel distance by 144 percent.
Future demand was also considered based on present population, the number of vehicles registered by district comparing population and vehicle density, projected future population growth and anticipated growth in visitor arrivals.
The Minister of Works and Transport, Rene Montero whose ministry will be responsible for executing the works, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, whose offices enlisted Korea’s support, also attended the launch of the plan.