Consulting With Koreans For Transportation Plan

Today, the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology, and Public Utilities hosted the launch of a National Transportation Master Plan. It's a multi-million dollar initiative in the planning stage that the different ministries are working with the Korean Government start to roll out.

Representatives from all the different ministries were present and 7News attended to find out what it is. Here's how Minister Joy Grant explained it:

Hon. Joy Grant - Minister of Energy, Science and Technology, Public Utilities
"If you say you are going to upgrade a road then we need to know what will be the demand. Will people move there? Will there be additional production? All those things come into place. That's why a plan is so very important."

Daniel Ortiz
"Can you tell us the effects of these different roads that you listed out this master plan will actually affect?"

Minister Joy Grant
"To reason being one of our key industries, we looked at some of the key sites and the top two were Altun Ha and Caracol. That road we believe to Caracol we would have a lot more visitors going there if the road is improved, but its a much longer road so that means its more expensive. At this point Altun Ha is used quite a bit, so the priority came out at this point to do the Altun Ha road for tourism. The coastal road is for actually not only for development but actually for example if there is a hurricane, people would need to get out of Belize City if its heading this way fast. You really would like more than one road and so that came up as a high priority for us and also to get people to go to Placencia - also getting the big trucks to that road and not the Hummingbird Highway, so those are the things you look at when you are deciding on the priorities."

Jung Wook Kim - Researcher, Korea Development Institute
"The transportation master plan, we try to collect all the available data in Belize and incorporate it into the method which is used in Korea in emphasizing all the facility type infrastructures and then we formulate the plans into the transportation master plan. That is what we are working on or so we try to find financial solutions because all of the infrastructure facility requires huge investments, so we try to find out the available resources."

The initial stages of the master plan is to gather data on how the country's transportation works, and where the deficiencies are. Grant told us that it is estimated that the Master plan will take 2 years to implement.

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Belize developing multimillion-dollar National Transportation Master Plan

Korea assisting via knowledge-sharing program

The National Transportation Master Plan for Belize was at the center of a senior policy dialogue held Friday morning at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City. That multimillion-dollar plan is divided into three phases, spanning well beyond the year 2030.

Belize has been receiving technical assistance from a team of 10 Korean experts, led by Professor Eui Young Shon of the Department of Transportation Engineering at University of Seoul's Institute of Transport Studies. Senator Joy Audrey Grant, Minister of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities, told the media Friday that the relationship with Korea started about two years ago and they have been meeting ever since.

Jung Wook Kim (KDI) - Fellow, Korea Development Institute, told the media that Korea has been working with Belize as part of a knowledge-sharing program sponsored by the Korean government, to help other developing countries. He said that they formally began their collaboration in 2013. The Korean team also includes Seol Joo Kim of Teso Engineering Company.

Both Grant and Kim emphasized the value of having the data needed to develop a sound plan.

"We actually took the Koreans to some of the bus terminals and we saw the need. The question came back again to data collection. We really do not have numbers," Grant said.

She said that people will have to be put on the ground to collect the data needed, and in her view, Belize has to make data collection a priority.

Minister Grant told the media that the plan proposes major investments to upgrade the Coastal Road as well as the access road to Altun Ha. They will also look at whether the Commerce Bight Port can be made operational once again. The plan forecasts a USD7.6 mil benefit for upgrades to the Coastal Road.

Whereas the Government hopes to primarily finance the plan from grant funds and concessionary financing, tax reform measures are also under consideration, specifically tax reform for economic growth and competitiveness, especially in the tourism sector; and a special or earmarked tax for the transport sector.

BZ$20 million has already been earmarked for key projects. They were detailed in today's policy dialogue as follows: $6.0 million from the OPEC Fund, Kuwait Fund and CABEI for the continuation of the upgrading of the Southern Highway; $5.0 million from CDB for the new Macal River Crossing( in Cayo District, including upgrading roads to the new bridge site); $3.0 million from CABEI for the new Corozal Border Crossing Reconstruction Project to upgrade facilities and infrastructure at the second Belize/Mexico Bridge; and $6.0 million from the World Bank for the Belize Municipal Development Project to improve access to basic municipal infrastructure and to enhance municipal management in selected towns and city councils.

Grant said that whereas the Government is looking at the economic dynamics, it is also looking at the potential human impacts.

"If you're saying you are going to upgrade a road, then you need to know what is the demand? Will people move there? Will there be additional agricultural production?" Grant explained.

She noted that the upgrade of the Coastal Road should not only foster development, but should also aid with disaster risk management. It should help expedite evacuations from Belize City, as well as provide a viable alternate route for big trucks which currently use the Hummingbird Highway.

The National Transportation Master Plan is to be divided in three phases: 1st phase: 2014-2020; 2nd phase : 2021-2030; and 3rd phase : post-2030.

Phase 1 includes works on the Altun Ha road and the Augustine Pine Ridge Municipal airstrip.

Phase 2 includes road investment for boosting major industries, refinements to the Caracol Road and the widening and expansion of the taxiway for airstrips in Corozal, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Dangriga, Placencia, and Punta Gorda.

Phase 3 will entail the establishment of industrial infrastructure for long-term economic development and improvements to enhance the connectivity between northern and western regions, among other plans.

Works should begin on the ground in about two years. Whereas the minister said she could not provide budget details, she noted that road construction generally costs $1 million a mile, but costs more for roads that require specialty works to take climate change into account.

She said that Belize is one of the top 10 countries for adverse effects from climate change, and this must be taken into account.

According to Grant, it is ideal for Belize to look at the construction of elevated causeways, but those are very expensive and so Belize has to look at what it can afford.

In Mexico next week, leaders from the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) will be meeting for a summit in Mexico, and among the plans on their agenda is one that includes a unified air and land transportation system for the region.

We asked Grant what consideration is being given to this move, and she told us that Belize's plan will have to fit into the regional scheme. Other institutions are looking at long-term planning in this regard, and Grant said that there is the need to bring them all under one regional master plan.


Belize prepares National Transportation Master Plan

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.

The Reporter