The Demerara Harbour Bridge is conceded by all to have long exceeded its promised life after it was thrown across the Demerara River in 1978. Sections of the purported “longest floating bridge in the world” were floating down the river long before the People’s National Congress Government demitted office in 1992 and in the 25 years since, it was only a rigorous and continuous retrofitting and maintenance schedule by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government and its new successor, has kept it afloat.
In the meantime, commercial activity on both sides of the river has increased exponentially, reflected by the figure of 9000 plus vehicles crossing either way up from the few hundreds in 1978. The commercial activity has also engendered a huge number of heavily laden trucks with produce and goods that have to be restricted and controlled so as not to place too much pressure on the decrepit structure. But we did not arrive at this impasse overnight and back in 2013, the then PPP Administration commissioned a pre-feasibility study to advise on a way forward. This was done by the Public Works Ministry and the Demerara Harbour Bridge staff with a minimum of fuss and submitted its report in October 2013.
Pertinently, the study pointed out: “Daily retraction for a period of about one hour causes severe road traffic congestion at both ends of the bridge, as well as delays and inconvenience to ocean going vessels. Consultations with various Private Sector agencies and NGOs that represent a wide cross section of production and manufacturing sectors in Guyana have indicated a strong desire for a new FIXED bridge structure across the Demerara River. The new structure would not only relieve road and marine traffic congestion, but would also facilitate and catalyse improved mobility, sector growth, and planned development at the Georgetown Harbour.”
And it concluded, “This prefeasibility study has shown that a new high level four-lane fixed bridge structure at Houston to Versailles is the only economically feasibility alternative, providing benefits to society that can amount to a minimum of some US$222 million over a 70-year life cycle at a capital cost of around US$264.5 million. The other alternatives proved to be uneconomical over the period. User tolls were considered to increase at a rate of two per cent per year above the existing regime.”
This present Government recently commissioned the necessary feasibility study at a cost of $143 million and to every stakeholder’s surprise, this turned the pre-feasibility upside down on the most critical feature for no stated reason. Rather than a “fixed High level four-lane bridge” that would allow ships to pass under the bridge at all times and preclude the objected need for retractions, the feasibility study is recommending a non-floating three lane bridge – but one that still has a retracting portion for passing ships.
As has already pointed out by several commentators, while the three-lane would allow two lanes each way for traffic during rush hours, this would in no way be significantly different than the present situation when both lanes are used but there are yet massive pile ups that occur. With Guyana still importing 10,000 cars per annum and increasing, this situation can only get worse.
Then more critically, the need for retraction would still create the enormous traffic back-ups and confusion that has now turned the moveable high tide periods into nightmares for cross-Demerara commuters and truckers. As the Chairman of the Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) Chamber of Commerce commented, the Government should at least look at logistical development of the Demerara River traffic for the foreseeable future.
While all the details are not released, Suriname was able to build a high level fixed bridge 20 years ago and they have been well served by their structure. The technology and costs are not much different from the low level bridge now being proposed. The major difference is the possibility that ships may run into the supporting structures when passing underneath.
That is not a fatal objection as Suriname has shown.