Coastal Highway, The Richest Road Ever

In 1986, a team of rugged forest officers from the Melinda Forest Station took 5 months in the deep bush to cut a line from Gales Point Manatee to La Democracia at mile 31 on the Western Highway. And that line that they cut, gave birth to the Coastal Highway.

In the 30 plus years since, the Coastal has remained the most tempting, but ultimately frustrating shortcut between central and southern Belize. If you're going from Belize to Dangriga - it cuts about 28 miles off the trip. But, with the road as rough as it has been, you might get a puncture, or, worse, you might just slide off the washboard surface. And don't even think of going coastal in the rainy season!

But, now the most promising highway that never was will get an all weather, climate resilient upgrade, complete with 10- new bridges. But, at 130 million dollars for 36 miles, it's not cheap. We found out more at the groundbreaking for the paving project today:

Jules Vasquez reporting
The Coastal Road - right now it's 36 miles of pain - but also the shortest distance between central and southern Belize.

And now it's finally going to be paved, the CDB's sixth road project in Belize, turning the soil thoroughly re-mapping Belize's highway infrastructure:

Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Works
"This is the last major road that is going to be paved, because we have all our major highways paved. So this is really a history in making - it's a momentous occasion."

At 130 million Belize dollars total - it is also the most costly single road paving project Belize has ever seen:

Yvonne Hyde, CEO - Ministry of Econ. Dev.
"The total would be over a hundred million Belize dollars by far. So it's a very large project and it is the largest infrastructure project that government has undertaken with the assistance of DFID and the Caribbean Development Bank. This project is regard as being transformational; in that it is going to open up the highway from the George Price Highway right down to the Hummingbird Highway. It is going to enhance access to the basic services in part of the communities along the road and it will also help to improve the quality of life of the 4 targeted communities which are Democracia, Hope Creek, Gales Point and Mullings River.

"I think of one thing when I say transformational: I think of the school children having had to walk along this very dusty road to their school and I see a situation where they are not going to have to contend with that again. In terms of health, there is not going to b the dust that there has been up to now."

Hon. Beverly Williams, Area Rep - Belize Rural Central
"Currently, there is no formal transportation system. No formal transportation that moves in and out of Gales Point, Manattee. Persons must rely on getting a ride in and out of the village. Imagine, a pregnant woman with an emergency or even a sick child."

Daniel Best, Director, Projects - CDB
"The design of the Coastal Highway upgrading was informed by a climate risk and vulnerability assessment and associated adaptation measures have been incorporated into the design. The Coastal Highway upgrading project will improve access to social services and economic opportunities 1,700 residents along the road, while incorporating enhanced safety for 2,500 drivers and passengers every day."

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"Explain to me why this road is so expensive?"

Daniel Best, Director, Projects - CDB
"Here's the thing, we're building something that is going to be resilient. We have incorporated a climate vulnerability assessment into this project, so the elevation of the road is going to be raised, also as you mentioned road safety features - we are incorporating, bus, reflective signages to ensure a full safety feature, but also there other safety projects such as training and awareness, post-crash care. So essentially it is a holistic approach to development and infrastructure to ensure that the very best product is provided that will stand up."

Errol Gentle, CEO - Min of Works
"But this project will be our signature project and as such we will be holding the contractor and the supervision to the highest standard of performance. When this project is completed we will have 58 kilometers of climate resilience, safe, user-friendly highway that conforms to international standards."

And the communities it interconnects are hoping for jobs:

Luis Castellanos, Chairman, La Democracia
"Once this highway comes on board and I believe that it should provide some employment for the villagers and once they have that opportunity for employment then I think it's something good for the village and villagers. In fact, from the announcement that the contract had already been signed, people had already been coming and asking when they could get employment. That shows you that everybody wants employment, so it's something good coming for the village."

Jason Altschaft, Chairman, Gales Point, Manattee
"Yeah, we've awfully excited about this project, because we've always had to hitchhike and find all sorts of creative ways to get out of our village. We are hoping that through all this it's going to still be our tight community. I would say we are looking for jobs in general. Back there we either had to fish, hunt or farm or trade that for money. So now we might have some more opportunities, so we might actually get some growth back in or village. Everybody that had to moved our ever since they took the bus away, they privatized the bus, it's been difficult for people to live back there and work elsewhere. So work, it will bring back families and revived the original village."

Hon. Beverly Williams, Area Rep - Belize Rural Central
"Businesses will spring up. There are farms that will go up. You know the Hemp industry is right on the table and we've been ask to look for people in this area to begin work, so shortly you should have about 20 people on the ground working and so we see it as an opportunity for the people of this area."

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"That was my next question: the full quantum of the 2 projects is 134 million - the 2 lots is 134 million. How much economic involvement or how much turn on in local talk would these people who live along the road get?"

Hon. Beverly Williams
"Well, I think the laborers will come directly from here. We've been promised that the contractors and so you see some immediate income to those people who are right starving for jobs. As I said later on it should spring off - even within the village we have one shop, so you'd probably see more shops."

Today this rendition of the Sambai dance was an expression of the hope this community was not so much to be re-discovered, but to survive.

Channel 7