Columns

The road (names) less taken

Lance Neita

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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The north-south link of Highway 2000 was in my sights again when it took me from St Ann to Kingston last week. I use the name guardedly as it has been officially named the Edward Seaga Highway.

Now I know I am short-sighted, but for the life of me I couldn't see any proclamation bearing the name until my wife pointed out that I should put on my glasses as there was indeed a tiny sign squeezed into the corner of the roundabout at Mammee Bay. But I breezed along quite comfortably on what most drivers will still refer to as the “North-South Highway”.

Politicians and other name callers have to be careful about attaching their names to roads and other structures. If you have become familiar with a road that you have been driving on for years, and intimately connected with its bumps and corners, you come to know it colloquially as the “Bridge”, or “Miss Sylvia Corner”, or “de road weh di police dem deh pon all de time”, or just “Bump”.

Official names tend to get lost in the rush. Even young students look lost when I challenge them to locate Marcus Garvey Highway, Michael Manley Highway, and even Bustamante Highway.

The Howard Cooke Highway is part of the Montego Bay lexicon, Mandela's is pretty popular, but many have difficulty finding the P J Patterson Highway, and where on Earth is the Florizel Glasspole Highway?

We have a penchant for name-dropping in this country, so I would suggest to the People's National Party (PNP) that they abandon the idea to rename Seaga's highway if and when they return to office. With the best of intentions, a road name can be short-lived, or, worse, overtaken by connotations not necessarily complimentary to its 'owner'.

Take, for example, the politician who ardently desired to have his name attached to a road he was building in his constituency. The act was approved by the party HQ, but he was warned that if he lost the upcoming election his 'John Brown Highway' would be renamed the John Brown Memorial Highway.

I find that informal names more accurately describe the nature and physical features of a location than the official designation. Take, for example, the Jamaica Railway's many junctions and halts requiring immediate identification and exact location as station masters followed and monitored the train along the track.

The railway manoeuvres and threads its way through points of interest, particularly as it enters the Kingston leg from the Spanish Town station. Railway passengers from bygone days will remember travelling through the cane fields and canals of Innswood Estate, then crossing the Rio Cobre canal, and steaming several more miles alongside more irrigation canals laid out on the Bernard Lodge and Caymanas Estates. The train would then cross the Rio Cobre one more time, ride perilously over the Sandy Gully watercourse, before humping along for the final three miles through the Kingston Industrial Estate to its Barry Street destination downtown Kingston.

The name plates along that section of the route excites the imagination. Passengers unwittingly passed through Shoemakers Gully, Cockfight Bridge, Salt River, Cut Throat Bridge, Stony Gully, and other sundry places. By golly, I wouldn't swap any of these names for even the best-known political names by any means — although I am not sure which of our politicians would like to have Cockfight Bridge named after him, or her.

In the case of our more prestigious highway system, I remain convinced that Seaga would have been better served by the naming of any one of his monumental contributions to nation-building outside of the road network. After all, 'North-South', or simply 'the highway', rolls off the tongue more easily than the Edward Seaga Highway. And the sign at Mammee Bay is so timidly positioned that I am not even sure if the two middle names are included.

I am still looking forward to, perhaps, the Edward Seaga High School (Tivoli Gardens) which I am sure he would be proud of, or one of those top national cultural awards out of the Jamaica Festival. All of my bellyaching does not contradict the fact that he had a huge part in the formation of the highway linkages across Jamaica. What is not well known is that the early initiatives to design an improved highway connection system surfaced in 1969-1970, and was included in the National Physical Plan published in 1971 — first vetted by then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, as well as the then Minister of Finance and Planning Edward Seaga.

Interestingly, and again according to the official records, the first plan suggested the north-south leg of the highway to run from Discovery Bay to May Pen, but this was later overturned by the necessity to construct a passageway to avoid the Flat Bridge accident zone. That's where I missed out on the chance for that highway to be named after me, or maybe Mike Henry, or perhaps Omar Davies (we all wear the same Clarendon parish tie).

We must, however, give credit where its due, as it should be noted that the construction of Highway 2000, under which all these projects fall, was introduced by then Prime Minister P J Patterson in September 1999.

Well, in the matter of name calling the PNP did manage to keep a Michael Manley, P J Patterson, and Florizel Glasspole section of the highway connection to themselves. It is well known that Hugh Shearer left explicit instructions that his name should not be attached to any street or highway, while Portia Simpson Miller has been stuck for the time being with a quite significant spot for a potentially beautiful park that is presently in a wait-and-see mode.

I would like to take Shearer off the beaten track and put him squarely into Falmouth, which was the city of his tourism dreams. Sometime in 2011, when the first cruise ships came calling, I visited Falmouth looking for some mention among the region's tourism attractions of former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer — a home-town boy born at Martha Brae in Trelawny, whose dream of a major tourism development embracing Falmouth had now been realised.

On May 10, 1968, he had broken ground for the New Falmouth Resort project conceptualised by him to include upscale hotels, beaches, villas, cruise ships, and an international village complex representing countries and cultures as diverse as Jamaica, Japan, England, France, Spain, USA, India, and territorial Africa. Each would have native restaurants, gift shops, markets, and entertainment, creating a facility for visitors to take a trip around the world by going from one village to the other. Rafting on the Martha Brae and the Swamp Safari attractions were introduced under Shearer's watch. The resort project slowed, but hopes were awakened with the opening of the Trelawny Beach Hotel on April 19, 1974.

The dream is still there, and now it has taken shape with the development of the cruise ship industry. As much as we give credit to the designers of the project, there should be a prominent place reserved somewhere for the name Hugh Shearer — the boy who was known as “Son Lindo” from Martha Brae. Over to the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and an author who is still waiting for a highway to be named after him. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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