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Blood on Their Hands!

Blood on Their Hands!
February 15
09:19 2019

By Major Lloyd Jones, Ret.

In March 2017 the government of Belize (GOB) awarded a $20.9 million contract to Cisco Construction for the upgrade of 2.77 miles of road between the Buttonwood Bay Boulevard and the Haulover Bridge. The Ministry of Works (MoW) is responsible for the project as they have lawful authority over highways despite the fact that the highway traverses a part of Belize City.

The upgrade saw the old highway expanded from three lanes to six lanes between the Buttonwood Bay Boulevard roundabout and the Chetumal Street roundabout. It is therefore beyond me how the MoW could have approved a road design that did not address the obvious impacts on the existing patterns of non-motorized transport as well as on pedestrians.

When many Belizeans began to point out the flaws in the project design the MoW, rather than look at the concerns objectively, dug in. After all who are we mere mortals to question these highly trained engineers right?

On February 4, 2019 the omissions of the MoW led to the horrific death of a young Belizean woman: Marlena Mortis was hit by a car trying to cross the highway. Marlena did not have to die! She had a lapse of judgement, a lapse that did not, and should not, have cost her her life.

The truth is that it was just a matter of time before such a horrific accident would have taken place. If not Marlena it would have been somebody else. People have been crossing that highway at that same spot for years. The highway cuts through a major residential area and, across the highway is a popular convenience store: the only one in the area at that. For the designers to have failed to provide for pedestrians to safely cross in that area is nothing short of criminal negligence. Marlena’s blood is therefore on the hands of those at the Ministry of Works!

Belize, despite all the signs of the pending impacts of climate change, seems to be moving in the direction of increased motorized transport. The government spent $20.9 million dollars on that strip of road to facilitate motorized transport and in the process not only discouraged non-motorized transport but made it more hazardous for both pedestrians and cyclists.

That project could not have undergone a proper climate change screening or the designers and the MoW would have picked up on the fact that the project discourages non-motorized transport. And it does so at a time when the imperatives of climate change require that we do just the opposite!

Furthermore, if the designers of that road had done a basic risk analysis they would have been able to determine that the Jersey Barriers would not, by themselves, have been enough to prevent pedestrians from crossing the highway. The efforts to discourage such behaviour near the Pallotti roundabout should have provided practical lessons on this matter. But the MoW pressed on as they always do; their $7.54 million/mile construction project had to go on!

It is about time that we recognize that poor infrastructure design has cost us too much in terms of human life. The area between the Chetumal Street and Buttonwood Bay Boulevard needs at least three overpasses for the safe movement of pedestrians across the highway. Basic traffic safety rules demand no less.

I wonder when we will understand the importance of sound design and of the legal responsibility that must attach to such gross negligence. The family of Marlena should sue the MoW and the contractor for criminal negligence!

I have been dismayed at the comments coming from some people on Facebook. Some have placed all the blame on Marlena; she should not have jumped the barrier they say. She should have walked the 500 yards (or so) to one of the pedestrian crossings by Sol or by Brodies. For them this is all about laziness it’s not about poor ergonomics or predictable human behaviour.

Something is clearly wrong as scores of people take the risks to cross the highway at points other than at the pedestrian crossings. Even after Marlena’s tragic accident the behaviour continues, so clearly this accident is not just as a result of Marlena’s “bad judgment.” It is about human behaviour, behaviour that could have been predicted from the design phase of that project.

Marlena was human; a woman who dragged herself up in an effort to make life better for herself and her children. She had recently graduated from UB with an Associate’s in Primary Education and she was hyped to return to school for her Bachelor’s. But it was not to be. On February 4, 2019 her lapse in judgement merged with the MoW’s obstinacy and just like that a young woman was no more. Marlena leaves behind two young children; her baby is a mere 5 months old. She had recently found true love, finally everything for her seemed to be falling into place and then this!

It almost seems like a bad joke that we only recently paid $1.5 million to a European firm to write for us a National Transport Master Plan. $1.5 million Belize and we end up with a road design that does not factor in the need for people (humans) to cross that highway so we ended up with a death trap.

Judging by the remarks of the CEO of the MoW it appears that our government will do nothing to correct the hazardous design of that stretch of road. They will wait for more of our loved ones to die. Blood is on their hands!

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