Management of the Demerara Harbour Bridge is moving to re-introduce night-transits for river vessels as part of
Government’s strategy to reduce congestion on the East Bank Demerara highway.
According to General Manager, Rawlston Adams, the night crossings, which would allow the bridge to toy with possibilities of reducing the daily 90-minutes average retraction to allow for vessel transiting, could be introduced as early as next month.
Workers of the bridge have been busy working to install new cluster piles that are necessary in case of collisions, and new river lights at the towers at Ruimveldt and on the West Coast.
The night crossings will spell good news to commuters and others traversing the busy East Bank Demerara roadway, as Adams and his team and the Ministry of Public Works are also considering even having two 30-minute retractions in the day.
The 36-year-old structure is a critical link between the city, West Demerara and Essequibo coast, allowing movements of large quantities of food from farms to markets in Georgetown. Thousands of residents live in the West Demerara area with a significant number of them working in the city.
However, with an estimated 10,000 vehicles added to the country’s roadways each year and the bridge itself recording an eight percent average increase in traffic annually, its capacity to handle the traffic is being severely challenged.
It has been over 20 years now since night retractions were done, with the General Manager pointing out that it was built with intentions to allow vessel transits after hours.
The retractions have long been affecting traffic on the nearby East Bank Demerara highway with the tarmac limited in its storage of vehicles. This in turn has forced vehicles to overspill onto the East Bank roadway reducing the four lanes to three.
Adams admitted that traffic management remains a major challenge for authorities. The bridge has been forced to introduce double lanes at peak periods to help reduce congestion. But it has not been enough.
Government has been saying that the structure is at its strongest today with millions being spent for maintenance.
As a matter of fact, annually, Government has been releasing $500M as a
subvention to help keep the bridge afloat. Revenues from tolls have been around $400M.
While a few years back, to protect the structure, a restriction limiting vehicles beyond 22 tonnes was placed, it has been lifted now with the bridge allowing special crossings for excavators, and other heavy vehicles.
But the biggest worry has been the sand trucks. The increase in new housing schemes across the river has seen a dramatic increase in crossings. According to Adams, double-axle sand trucks account for 6% of total traffic, but bring in 15% revenues. However, it is the cause of 90 per cent of the damage to the floating bridge.
For this year alone, workers had to change four transoms- the beams that connect the different sections.
This is significant, as it would be the first time in almost two decades that such major structural works have been done. Engineers that make routine checks on the structure have been finding that the southernmost parts of the transoms have been the ones with the damage. The conclusion was that the heavy vehicles were taking a toll.
Last year, workers of the bridge changed 65 connecting posts. For this year, it has been 35.
The traffic traversing the bridge itself will tell a story. While six years ago, it was around 12,000 vehicles crossing daily, there have been occasions when as much as 20,000 crossed daily this year.
“The structure of the bridge will stand up as long as resources are being placed into it,” Adams said.
Most of the critical works are being done in the nights to lessen the impact on traffic.
Daily, workers are also busy replacing deckings and making emergency repairs.
The challenge for Adams and his team and Government is not so much the structural integrity of the bridge, but whether it will be able to handle the expected increase in the volumes of traffic in an efficient manner.
Government has started exploring the possibilities of another Demerara River crossing with 20 proposals being considered at the moment.
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