The highway from the central part of the country of Belize to the southern area, called the Toledo District has been the subject of much progress over the last number of years. Foreign loans borrowed, outright GRANTS in some cases and so on. This is very difficult terrain, with lots of rivers to cross. As the highway goes southward through banana areas, jaguar preserves and hills and jungle, the annual rainfall gradient goes up. By Stann Creek it averages 120 inches a year. By the time you get to the very southen part of the country near the Guatemalan border the rainfall averages 300 inches of rain a year. This is a tough place to build an inter-district national highway, to tie the country of Belize together.
Back in colonial days, transportation was by the Heron H. and then later the Honduran, coastal double decker tropical style steamers. You had baggage, freight, cattle and people piled all over the place. It was an overnight trip along the coast, one way. One of the old style very romantic methods of travel as I recollect down memory lane. There was no road at all. There used to be some 800 foot dirt airstrips, hacked out of the jungle. But that can get hairy in the rainy season, trying to take off in 800 feet and clear surrounding 150 foot jungle trees.
At the moment, building this road is not very financially practical. But it is opening up new country for farms and settlements. Despite mud, rain, washed out bridges and holes after holes, it still is faster from a point to point basis than the old coastal boat freighter than was used in yesteryear. The transhipment costs of getting things from coastal points ( piers and docks would be a laughable term ) put coastal freight too high and consumed too much time and difficulties. Just envision last century on the Mississippi River of USA fame. It was like that! Nowadays, buses, a few cars and trucks, struggle down the road, cursing as they go, the flat tires and all manner of obstacles and difficulties.
As of now, January in the year 2000, the road is getting shock treatment in different parts. Will it ever pay? That is another question?
Cisco Construction Co. started at the Stann Creek Valley Road Junction in April 99. They figure it will take three years to complete the road to Mango Creek, a distance of 35 miles. This will be an asphalted two lane road.
Meco and Santa Fe Company started at Big Creek, the port for bananas and will work toward Bladen Bridge a distance of 30 miles.
There is one stretch finished. That is from the coastal town of Punta Gorda and Cattle Landing to Big Falls, a distance of 20 miles. Not yet started is a 20 mile stretch going past and through the Mayan Hill village territories. They objected to the effects of the road interfering with their thousands of year old life style. They think it will wreck the way they live. They are probably right. In the long run, they may even be smart, as their method of communal land ownership has proven superior to any other modern method of living in such terrain and climate. This piece of road that will undoubtedly be done, despite their objections, is from Big Falls to the Bladen Bridge.
The existing contracts might finish by around July in 2001. The Cisco section of the road might finish by September this year.
If any foreign government, or agencies wish to donate a BRIDGE on this road. The Belize Government would be eternally grateful, I am sure.
The coming century may see this road disappear. The upkeep in such jungle hilly high rainfall terrain is high. A World War, or World Recession, a Hurricane with torrential rainfall for a week and the southern highway and bridges are likely to disappear. When the Spaniards invaded the central spine of Mexico and Central America, the cutoff of trade destroyed the old Mayan Empire roads of yesteryear. That was only 450 years ago. The remnants of these massive road constructions can be seen under the jungle even today.
It is not likely that it would be wise to ignore the coastal docks and piers, for they may be needed once again in this century. Perhaps, it might be wise to invest a little money each year and dump a dozen truck loads of boulders in selected spots to gradually build up a base for coastal piers. I'm sure at some point they will be needed again for coastal boat freight traffic. The airstrips have been improved since colonial days. They are now 3600 feet long and quite adequate. Keeping them cleared and graded is probably not that big a deal. Airplane communications is likely to surge even more and certainly during every rainy season, when sections of the southern highway, regularly get washed out and simple cheap bridges washed away, or destroyed by floods and floating trees on the currents.
Still, the southern highway is improving slowly, year by year. Finding the money to do it, is a burden the small government of Belize can hardly handle. Yet it is a top priority, to open up the southern districts with the rest of the nation and make land available for farms and a growing population. Reminds me a bit of the Alaskan Highway project through the Yukon in North America. Except this is tropical and the damage nature can do is slightly different, but just as expensive and complicated.
Thankyou to Mr. Tate for the current info on the southern highway via the Belize Culture List.