By Gemma Handy
Business owners on Friars Hill Road are reporting losses as high as 70 per cent since major roadworks began in 2017.
From the long queues of traffic backed up at stoplights to the thick plumes of dust in the air, the delicate balancing act of improving the nation’s oft-bemoaned roads while keeping businesses ticking along is all too evident here on one of Antigua’s busiest highways.
The project – beset by endless delays – is continuing to cause headaches for traders, customers and motorists alike.
Business owners who spoke to OBSERVER on Wednesday detailed losses ranging from 40 to a galling 70 per cent due to shoppers avoiding the area.
Restaurant owner, Windy, said trade had nosedived further this week due to temporary lights being erected close to the entrance of her premises.
When her eatery first opened in 2015, business was booming, she said.
“For the first two years, I had so many customers I couldn’t even count them. Now I am barely paying the rent. Revenue has dropped by about 70 per cent.
“A lot of people are complaining. A few still come because they like the food but most don’t want to come through the road,” Windy added.
The busy highway’s southern end still bears the familiar pockmarks and patch-ups of many of its counterparts. Work appears to be progressing quickly at the northern end towards Marble Hill.
The completion of the initiative – part of a multi-million dollar United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF) project – cannot come soon enough for most.
Many bemoan the temporary traffic lights, with irritated drivers often disregarding them entirely.
“The amount of time you have to sit and wait for them to change is horrible,” said one café worker, Ladia. Her usual seven-minute journey to work can now top half an hour at peak times, she told OBSERVER.
“It’s bad for business. People should be compensated; they still have to pay their staff and bills,” she added.
A shop worker in Royal Palm Place also condemned the timing of the traffic lights.
“They take too long to change and then they allow you no time to move. It makes us late for work,” she said.
“People are avoiding coming into the shop,” she continued. “Business has been slow for the last few days.
“But the contractors are working pretty fast so we just hope that continues,” she added.
Roadside vendors lamented the dust whipped up by passing trucks.
“It makes me cough,” said one coconut stall-holder. “People don’t want to stop and it has affected my livelihood.”
Controversy has long plagued the scheme, with a very public spat between the government and contractors Bahamas Hot Mix. The parties have been locked in arbitration amid a disagreement over the project’s timeframe for completion.
Minister of Public Works Lennox Weston previously threatened to take the case all the way to London’s Privy Council, the country’s final court of appeal.
Several business owners praised the government for keeping them abreast of developments along the way, and for providing regular water trucks to keep dust at bay.
“The roadworks have been impacting our takings for 18 months and we have suffered a tremendous loss in business,” said a local gas station owner.
“Takings dropped initially by about 40 per cent. For the last couple of months, it’s been down by 50 per cent. I don’t think there’s a single person along this road who will say it has not impacted them.
“It’s hard but what can you do?” she added. “It will be worth it once it’s done – and hopefully we can make up what we’ve lost. We are struggling and we will continue to struggle on.”
The latest estimate given for completion of the project was this September.
No comment was forthcoming from Ministry of Works officials – or Bahamas Hot Mix representatives – despite repeated requests.