In recent years, Guyana has been embarking on a number of major infrastructural initiatives, from the East Bank Demerara four-lane project to the airport expansion at Timehri.
While the troubled East Bank Demerara four-lane is completed, work has also started on the East Coast four-lane with another project underway on the Sheriff Street/Mandela Avenue expansion.
In recent days especially, there have been growing complaints over the management of the East Coast four-lane.
Traffic, dust and the blocking of business places have been contributing to what has become an intolerable situation.
According to commuters, the poor traffic management is unforgivable.
“Imagine you have one East Coast highway and the Railway Embankment bypass. Imagine both are being repaired at the same time. Imagine thousands of vehicles traversing each day; imagine the Sheriff Street project starting. This is madness,” Ayube, a bus driver complained bitterly.
It takes as much as two hours, sometimes, before one can get out of the lines to and from the city.
The problems are more pronounced on weekdays at peak periods in the morning and afternoon.
The East Coast highway is the main linkage to Berbice and tens of villages with thousands of residents in between.
The problems of traffic, dust and severe inconvenience to businesses could be minimized if the contractor fulfills his obligations and if the authorities, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carries out its mandate, the engineer explained.
A number of businesses have closed their doors because of no access. There is little, it seems, that they can say.
However, there is little monitoring and the management of the project are left almost entirely to the contractor.
The contractor for the East Coast Demerara four-lane is China Railway First Group Limited.
Yesterday, a government engineer explained that for major projects, an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is required.
Part of that EMP must include the establishment of a grievance mechanism- hotline system; a traffic management plan; health and safety plan and a waste disposal plan.
With regards to the traffic management, the plan is supposed to be specific how areas are to be closed, where the barriers are placed and the erection of signs.
Even the signs are very specific in colour and size.
Under projects funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and World Bank, there are tough monitoring and enforcement of the EMPs to ensure that contractors adhere to them.
In one glaring case at Better Hope, there is a sign “Division Ahead” instead of “Diversion Ahead”. It does not conform to the specifications.
There are often many cases of trucks suddenly blocking the road, dumping their contents and backing up traffic for miles.
In the cases of bypass roads, these are poorly built, and potholed. They also lead to the traffic buildup.
Among other things, there must be proper lighting, plans for bypass roads, and even diversions.
In the case of the using crusher run, in hot weather, the contractor must soak it to reduce the dust pollution.
According to the engineer, what has been happening is that contractors have been bidding low on projects with little monies allocated in case government wants to penalize. The amounts recoverable are so negligible that it would not make sense to pursue.
“You have to have entities like the EPA and others that should be paying more attention are not doing enough. That is why you have the frustration and nonsense on the East Coast road expansion. You cannot leave it to the contractor to do it themselves. We have to enforce. It is simple.”
The call for an urgent assessment would be underscored with an environmentalist in a letter yesterday in Kaieteur News complaining about the issue of EMPs.
According to the writer, at the conceptual stages of projects, a lot of effort and money is spent on conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and preparing an environmental management plan (EMP).
The EMP is essentially the blueprint, which details mitigation measures to address all possible impacts of the project on the bio-physical and social environment.
However, during the construction-stage of some projects very little effort is placed on implementing the recommendations of the EMP.
“Also, at the bidding stage, it is common knowledge that the lowest responsive bidder is usually awarded the project, to remain competitive most contractors underbid for environmental, health and safety, etc., this simply means that there aren’t sufficient funds to implement the EMP. Coupled with very little involvement from agencies responsible for monitoring, we have projects that generate significant social distress and environmental damage,” the writer noted.
It was pointed out that the East Coast Expansion roadway is a very good example to illustrate this.
“Construction is spread out in large sections instead of smaller phased sections, which will reduce the traffic backup. The traffic bottleneck is exacerbated by the unpaved diversion with numerous potholes and uneven sections; this creates havoc at peak hour.
“A paved diversion would allow for smoother traffic flow, diverting traffic onto the railway embankment cannot solve the current problem since this road cannot accommodate the volume of traffic.”
The writer stressed that dust levels are excessive in areas including Better Hope, which has many schools; very little effort is made to abate this nuisance. “We all know the danger of dust, especially for asthmatic patients.”
In terms of safety, there is an absence of advisory and warning signs throughout the corridor, the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides a list of the type of signs that are needed for construction projects.
“The roadway is poorly lit at nights; this is hazardous and increases the risk of accidents. Large excavated sections and drop-offs are not cordoned, this is extremely dangerous. Traffic management is absent entirely on this project, many times trucks and excavators cross the roadway without any flagmen present to assist with traffic control. Road users are left to negotiate the roadway at their own risk,” the environmentalist said.
The East Coast road project is being undertaken at a cost of more than US$45M and includes the upgrading and widening roads between Better Hope to Belfield.
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