Today's formal ceremony speaks for itself.
It is a great day for Highway 2000 and for Jamaica.
We are now fully into the era of modern travel.
We are here to celebrate the successful opening of the first phase of this project – the center-piece of a number of projects conceived by this Administration to mark the dawn of the new Millennium.
As we approached the end of 1999, we considered many ways in which to mark the dawn of the new era. During the last century, our founders displayed the vision and courage to begin the process of nation building against formidable odds.
As inheritors of this great legacy – a free, vibrant and democratic nation – we felt that it would be fitting to mark the beginning of this new century by building on their great achievement we decided to advance their mission by developing a project that would open up a new era of promise and possibility for our people.
This is how the idea of Highway 2000 was born.
It is not simply a stretch of road, as impressive as it is. It creates a new pathway to the further development of our people.
The construction of this Highway is a part of our mission to raise living standards by creating a platform for a dynamic economy which can generate long-tern growth and job creation.
This first modern controlled access, multi-lane highway, with related arterial roads, is the single largest investment project in our country's history and the single largest project of its kind in the entire English-speaking Caribbean.
It is an integral part of this Administration's continuing fulfillment of its role, indeed its obligation, to provide new avenues for growth, as we face the challenges presented by the new millennium and the era of globalisation.
That one of the world's most renowned construction entities had the confidence to make an investment of this magnitude in Jamaica is a positive sign. It proves that our policy direction and macro-economic strategy make it possible to source funds on the international markets.
It speaks well for the long term viability of our country and our prospects for future development.
Today's event signals much more than the official opening of a new toll highway – Highway 2000. It signifies the dawning of a new era in the economic and social history of our country.
Immediately, Highway 2000 will open up new areas of Jamaica for investment in a wide range of economic activities including information and communication technology, manufacturing, agro-industry, air cargo and tourism.
A clear objective of Highway 2000 is to ensure balanced economic development throughout the island.
Development of new townships will offer access to trained workforce, consumers and business opportunities with modern transport and state-of-the-art telecommunications links.
No Administration has done more to transform our country's physical infrastructure with new roadways, bridges, airports, seaports, water, electricity and telecommunications.
Highway 2000 is a showpiece.
Although only the first phase of the project is complete, we can already see a reduction of congestion on our existing road system and facilitation of persons who commute from rural and suburban areas.
It will also provide more secure transportation of agricultural and other products to our airports and seaports for export as well as for local consumption.
It could reduce transportation costs for agricultural and other businesses by some 30%.
It will spur agricultural activity by opening up tracts of land for development and provide the opportunity for industrial development along the corridor.
We are working hard to promote the other projects contemplated to mark the new millennium:
Upgrading of Milk River Spa
Development of industrial parks along the Highway Corridor
A Maroon Theme Park in the Cockpit Country; and
The development of Vernamfield as a maintenance and cargo airport and free zone.
We are far advanced in the process of conducting studies for the proposed New Town in Clarendon on some 22,000 acres of land in the Inverness, Hunt's Pen and Collman Cockpit area.
This project fits within the macro planning for the south coast of the island as we seek to:
Provide an alternative focus and absorb much of the future growth beyond the Kingston Metropolitan area;
Reduce population pressure on the major urban areas and facilitate commuting from urban areas to the city;
To say that the project has endless possibilities is really an understatement. It is truly a viable 'pathway to the future' of economic prosperity and social progress that we strive to achieve on behalf of the people of Jamaica.
We have already invited Corporate Jamaica and major international investors to be part of this quantum leap in development.
Overseas investors are displaying keen interest. My word to Jamaican investors is: Do not stay on the sidelines in a 'wait and see' mode and then complain and grumble when investors from other parts of the Caribbean come forward. Step to the wicket and let us all press on with those things that will create jobs, business opportunities and economic growth.
Before closing, let me heartily congratulate everyone involved in the successful completion of the first phase of this important project.
Forgive me if I start with the Honourable Kingsley Thomas, whose fervent belief in this project from day one has been inspiring.
Thank President Chirac and the French Government
To our foreign partners, I say thank you for having the confidence to make this major investment and the hard work you have put in.
Congratulations too, to the army of professional and technical staff from all the many entities that it takes to make such a project work.
To every single worker, man and woman at every level, who has toiled with dedication, and yes, sweated through the days and many many nights, I say congratulations on a job well done.
You have provided Jamaica with a roadway and its supporting infrastructure and operating systems which are up to world class standards, as promised.
It takes a great team to achieve this level of success. You have all made this great day possible. On my own behalf, and on behalf of the people of Jamaica, I say thank you.
And this is only the beginning! I am thrilled to see how far the construction of the next phase of Highway 2000 has progressed!
As to the future, I urge everyone who will play a role in life of the highway in whatever capacity – administrative, labour, security and as consumers, I urge you to take pride in it;
Let us show that we are worthy of having first class facilities;
That we are disciplined enough and have enough common sense and the spirit of community to follow the rules developed for our safety and security so that all of us will continue to enjoy the benefits that accrue from such an impressive project.
May God guide every user of this Highway.
God bless Jamaica land we love.