If you travel between the Belize District and the southern districts often, you've probably been anxious for the completion of the Coastal Highway. It's the shortest distance between the two points, connecting La Democracia with Hope Creek, passing Gales Point Manatee along the way.

And today it was officially opened after over three years of rehabilitation. Now, it's a smooth ride, bypassing the Hummingbird, and getting you to your destination much faster.

Courtney Menzies was at the opening ceremony today and has this story.

The Coastal Highway - for decades, it was 36 miles of dirt that was tough to traverse, especially for the residents of the nearby villages.

But today - and 124 million dollars and three years and five months later - the completely rehabilitated and reformed Coastal Plain Highway - as it's now called - was officially opened. Every mile has been paved, and all bridges have been completed, connecting the Belize District with the south and allowing for quicker commuting.

And though it was a project started under the UDP, the PUP government praised it, saying that it's for the people, not for any one administration.

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I think it's a milestone for the government of Belize, and I think Julius said it best, this is not a blue or red road, this road belongs to all Belizeans. We pointed out earlier that while we had our concerns when the contract was being issued, as a responsible government, when we got in, we decided that we need to see how we can make it better and we did that because under that supervision of Julius and his team, we managed to save six million dollars for which will be used to do some works on the Hummingbird Highway and also to do some work in Dangriga and we paved more if not all onto Mullins River and..."

"...And Gales Point Manatee, so I think it is a wonderful project and I believe that Belizeans will be able to enjoy this and make Belize even smaller because of the network of roads and also to improve commerce and tourism for the south and the rest of the country."

And with those improvements, comes advancement in economic activity for the south, as the Ministry of Infrastructure and the area rep for Stann Creek West explained.

Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure
"As you drive this way, you'll see a lot of areas that are beginning to open up for potential tourist destinations, you have, there's one the Coastal right here that goes to Western Lagoon opening up for residents, this area will flourish. But it also helps with the other road networks, with the large trucks and materials coming from ASR, all of that will start using this and so we are now, we are about to propose to Cabinet to toll this road for heavy equipment and have a system where the locals can pass without cost."

Rodwell Ferguson, Area Rep, Stann Creek West
"Every country, especially every developed country in world, their key development is road network and proper transportation. And that's why when I became the Minister of Transportation, I've been trying to insist that transportation makes an economy grow and if you don't have the proper infrastructure and the proper transportation, then the whole economy will become very dormant and I am hopeful that with the Coastal Road, we will see more activities, especially for the people in the south from Toledo and Stann Creek and even the cost of living should go down because the cost of transportation of goods should be much cheaper."

"With the bus routes, definitely there will have to be a bus route from the south to Coastal to Belize City. Again nobody has applied as yet but once a person has come, we're going to look at it."

But there were some setbacks with COVID, wars, and contractors, however, Minister Espat explained that all the kinks - including the UDP's preferred contractor - had to be worked out.

Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure
"The gentleman that you speak of was highly political, we are aware of that, but when I came in I have to be a responsible minister and so what's the purpose of taking away a contract and going to court and losing millions of dollars for the people of Belize, we made a decision and we sit and we explained to him what our priorities were, how we worked, what we expected, and he complied, you can't ask for better than that."

"Covid put a little damper on us, the war in Ukraine with the material difficulty, despite all of that, we came together as Belizeans and we worked as a team, we pressured the contractor a little bit when we got in because they were a little bit behind time. They complied, it's a good thing that Belizeans can work together to have something of this international caliber."

And though the road was closed today for the opening, it is now free for commuters who want to cut off a good thirty minutes off their trip.

We would be remiss if we did not pay a tribute to the man who first had the vision for the Coastal Road, which was Hubert Elrington - who back in the 80's had what seemed then like a crazy dream to build a road that cut from the Belize District straight down to the south. Legend is he sent out two Works employees who were also talented bushmeat to cut a line through the dense jungle corridor and... 40 years later, we have a world class highway.

Channel 7