Preparations for a new Demerara River Bridge, earmarked for a location between Houston on the East Bank and Versailles on the West Bank, is picking up steam.
On Tuesday, officials from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) met with residents of Houston, East Bank Demerara, to provide information on possible land acquisition.
According to the ministry, residents from four different households turned out to meet with the officials, who included Senior Engineer (Central Transport and Planning), Ronald Roberts; Transport Planning Officer (Economist), Ramona Duncan; and Socio-environmental Officer, Shawn-Ann Greene.
During the engagement, Greene explained that the “first grassroots community meeting” was an effort by the Ministry to foster a transparent process as the project gets underway.
Even though the project is in its initial stages, Greene emphasised that community engagement from the get-go was a necessity.
“We want to ensure that you are informed every step of the way,” Greene said. She added that all of the previously identified homes might not be affected upon the determination of the final design of the bridge. However, all of the residents will be privy to the necessary information.
The proposed alignment for the new bridge and additional project details, including findings from the Feasibility Study and Design, were also shared with the residents. The residents were informed that more detailed economic, social, and environmental impact assessments will be conducted when the project moves beyond its preliminary stages and these assessments will take into account many of the residents’ concerns.
According to the residents, their main concerns were being evicted from their properties without adequate notice and not being adequately compensated.
The residents also indicated that while they had no issues with relocation, they would prefer new homes on the East Bank of Demerara or somewhere close by.
“We’ve established lives for ourselves in this area; we’re accustomed to this life and we want to continue those lives as best as possible,” one resident explained.
In turn, the Ministry officials emphasised that sufficient notice would be given if the removal of homes becomes necessary.
Furthermore, the officials said that the Ministry of Legal Affairs would be negotiating directly with the residents on compensation, while the Lands and Surveys Department will be conducting the valuation process to ensure that residents are properly reimbursed for their homes.
The residents expressed their appreciation for the meeting with the Ministry officials and said that the meeting quelled much of their fears.
“Today’s meeting was very informative and I appreciate the Ministry coming and making us aware of what’s going on, because all the time we didn’t know anything about what was going on. Now that they’ve come we feel a bit more comfortable with the process and whatever has to come in the future, we will try to cooperate with whatever has to be done,” Rantwi Rupnarain, a Houston resident for 60 years, said.
The new Demerara River Bridge will be a medium-level structure with three vehicular lanes and a central movable part in the form of a lift span to allow for the passage of ocean-going vessels.
The project will also include the construction of two fly-over bridges and 11 km of connecting roads on the eastern and western banks of the Demerara River, providing seamless connection to the existing road network.
The new bridge is expected to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce travel time and distances, and provide a level of service never before experienced on the country’s roadways. Construction is scheduled to commence in 2018. It is estimated that the structure will cost around US$170M.
A feasibility study by Dutch firm, Lievense CSO recommended that the old Demerara Harbour Bridge at Peter’s Hall be dismantled after the new one becomes operational.
The almost 40-year-old bridge, built to last 10 years, is unable to efficiently handle the traffic at peak hours.
With 10,000 vehicles being introduced to the country’s road ways annually and several new housing schemes on both sides of the bank, the bridge has been struggling.
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