Race against time for aging Harbour Bridge…APNU says – New bridge more important than Marriott Hotel
The recent shocking collapse of the Demerara Harbour Bridge, which left thousands stranded and severe losses to especially farmers and businesses, should be a wake-up call for government to immediately re-prioritise its projects.
And, according to the main Parliamentary Opposition, A Partnership For National Unity (APNU), finding the money should be simple – go to the same source where monies were found for the planned Marriott Hotel, the Amaila Falls Hydro Electric Project and the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
At around 07:00 hrs on July 23, a temporary pontoon at the westernmost end of the bridge sank after it broke loose from its connections causing the structure to buckle at its linkages.
A minibus filled with passengers headed for Georgetown was barely steered from rolling backwards into the waters that covered the spans.
The bridge was closed for three days…three days in which the country’s vulnerabilities regarding the uses of that critical link were glaringly exposed.
The bridge is the main link between West Demerara and Essequibo to the city, airport and eastern section of the country. Thousands of persons, including farmers and city workers live in the West Demerara area.
Not only was the decision to abandon and allow the Vreed-en-Hoop and Georgetown Stellings to fall into disrepair rued during those three days, but the bridge’s closure struck home the hard reality that an alternative will have to be found sooner than later.
Police were called out to control the confusion at the Vreed-en-Hoop speedboat stelling and hundreds of workers were forced to use that as a means to get to work or to conduct urgent business.
Government was forced to allow speedboats to work through the night as bridge workers toiled to bring the aging structure back into operation.
According to APNU’s Parliamentarian charged with Pubic Works, Joe Harmon, building a new, modern bridge should immediately be placed at the top of the government’s agenda as far as infrastructural projects are concerned.
He noted that while Public Works Minister, Robeson Benn, had signaled that there will not be an inquiry into the collapse, the very operations there call for one. Specific mention was made into the mysterious theft of a maintenance pontoon several weeks ago, which was taken away in the dead of the night and later found partially submerged in the Mahaica River. No one has been held accountable for that.
“There were man-hours lost, produce lost and generally serious losses to commerce,” Harmon pointed out.
“APNU is considering now an inquiry into not only the bridge failure, but of other bridges, roads and sea defences. Why are they failing us? We were at Kumaka (Mabaruma) Region One, and people have described works on a revetment on the waterfront there as a travesty, with people even questioning whether government knew what it is doing. These are issues that affect people’s lives.”
Harmon noted a case earlier this year in which a teenager was killed after a car he was in struck a bad spot on Cemetery Road, and the vehicle ended up in a trench.
“I think it is time the bridge be replaced, it is too important an artery for us, providing a crucial link between East and West Demerara and Essequibo. I am aware of some preliminary work done for a modern bridge by a company and that is at the Public Works.”
The Parliamentarian recalled reports where former President Bharrat Jagdeo had made a surprise inspection of the bridge and after finding it in a bad state, ordered the release of hundreds of millions of dollars for the replacement of aging deck plates.
“Now they’re spending and spending money like crazy. I have seen some estimates for works by contractors and it is a lot of money. When the bridge collapsed, the state-owned NCN blamed it on a vehicle accident. The first inclination by the government is to cover things up. But people were on the bridge and know different.”
According to the APNU official, a modern Guyana must take into account a new bridge across the river.
Not Marriott Hotel
“Some people are afraid to even drive on it now. To me, it is a more urgent development and should take priority over a Marriott Hotel. This (new bridge) is what the people need, not a Marriott Hotel. That is not an urgent priority…it is not a luxury…people’s lives don’t depend on it.”
Harmon insisted that the same energy government uses to search for investors in other projects – the same energy should be utilised in finding the funding for a new bridge.
“Even though they (the other projects) are necessary, we should re-prioritise. We should be able to link the hinterland to the coast. That is the kind of planning that we are talking about in APNU. In neighbouring Suriname you can drive from one side of the country to another. I look forward to the day that I can drive from the city to Kamarang in the interior.”
However, according to Harmon, it may take a shift in thinking from the government side and the stakeholders.
“I believe that the only way we can do it is to sit down and see what Guyana needs. Not show that we have a fancy hotel. I believe that we need to develop Guyana from the bottom up and not from top looking down.”
There have been several calls for an alternative or a new bridge. The current one was commissioned in July 1978 and has long outlived its 20-year lifespan.
Officials recently said that while there may be another 10 years left in the structure, it will become problematic in another five years as Guyana continues to import more vehicles.
Traffic growth on the roads is said to be seeing average increase of around 4-5% annually.
Currently, an estimated 16,000 vehicles traverse the bridge on a daily basis.
To avoid congestion in the morning and evening peak hours, the bridge management had been forced to resort to one-lane traffic on weekdays.
It has become a usual sight for motorists to see workers patching sections of the bridge daily.
Government has said that there were a number of studies for a new bridge and other alternatives, but there has been nothing concrete to the public as yet.