Govt to expedite work on new DHB – Pres Ali

…optimistic bridge can accommodate light traffic by this evening
…engineer recounts staff running to safety after fuel vessel slams into bridge

In the wake of the accident that resulted in four spans on the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB) being destroyed and inconveniencing thousands of residents on the West Bank of Demerara (WBD), President Dr Irfaan Ali inspected ongoing remedial works on Sunday.

President Ali being briefed by DHB General Manager on Sunday

During the inspection, he was briefed by bridge officials including DHB Corporation General Manager Wayne Watson. With President Ali expressing hope that light traffic can be accommodated by Monday evening, Watson informed the President that they are pulling out all the stops to get to a place of light traffic.
“Based on the current assessment of the impact, we would have determined the amount of work that was completed thus far. We have confidence that once we remove the reduction in space that we detected on nine, eight and seven, we will have the bridge ready for light traffic. So that is our focus.”
“When we complete this, we’re going to do a little manual pulling over of the bridge. Because the bridge went back by three to four feet. So, we have to pull that and then we’re going to do a general inspection. So, we’re going to close (span) 10 and we’re going to try and bring nine over,” Watson said.
However, President Ali saluted the work that has been done thus far to repair the damage and informed that talks are ongoing with respect to the new bridge.
A contract was awarded a few months ago and according to the President, they will try to expedite work on that bridge, which has a two-year timeframe to complete once work starts.

Mechanical Maintenance Engineer Ahmad Khan

“You guys are working 24 hours now, around the clock, for us to get back light traffic by Monday night. Let’s see how it goes. And that requires round-the-clock work. We also have to relook now at the guidelines. We have bigger ships coming in. We have faster vessels. And the bridge, really, is being nursed along at this stage in the bridge’s life.
“And we can’t every time there’s an impact, and this is one of the worst impacts we’ve ever had, when this happens then (it impacts) the fragility of the bridge, it needs continuous maintenance. And while we’re doing this, we’ll try to expedite the work on the new bridge. But one of the things with the frequent hitting of the bridge is that it is actually devouring all our spare capacity. So, these are the challenges,” he said.

The moment the vessel hit the bridge is a moment that will live on for the bridge workers who were on duty on that fateful Saturday morning. The vessel in question is the MV Trade Wind Passion, a Panamanian fuel ship that was transporting fuel to the Guyana Oil Company (GuyOil). It was heading south and was the last of five vessels to cross the bridge, when it collided with the bridge.
According to Ahmad Khan, the mechanical maintenance engineer on duty at the time, they had to run for their lives once they noticed that the ship that was supposed to be navigating between the bridge, was off course and barrelling towards them.
“We had to run for our lives. Because it was a big ship. And we done know what is the impact this thing would cause. So, I done, I tell everyone start moving off… there were people conducting welding. So, everyone started moving off.”
According to him, they made the decision to clear the span and started moving to safety within a minute as the ship approached. Of course, one crew member wasn’t so lucky. Andy Duke, a DHB Ship Supervisor, was directing the vessel through the retraction and attempted to get it to stop after realising it was out of alignment.
At the time of the incident, Duke was injured after he had to jump from his post to get out of the path of the vessel that eventually crashed into the bridge. He is currently hospitalised with a fractured leg.

New bridge
Back in May, a US$260 million contract for the new bridge across the Demerara River was signed. The contract was awarded to a joint venture led by China Railway and Construction Corporation (International) Limited, which outbid four other pre-qualified international companies that submitted proposals for the project. Over the past few months, the Guyana Government, through a team of specialists – legal and engineering – was in negotiations with the Chinese company to finalise the terms of the contract.
The new bridge will be a fixed 2.65-kilometre four-lane high-span cable-stayed structure across the Demerara River with the width of the driving surface being about 23.6 metres.
The bridge, which features a bicycle lane, will bring an end to closures to vehicular traffic with a 50-metre fixed high span to cater for the free flow of vessels uninterrupted. The river will be dredged along a 13.5-kilometre stretch to accommodate large vessels.
Back in November 2021, Cabinet had granted its no-objection for the Chinese company to construct the bridge using a Design-Build-Finance (DBF) model. The bridge will land aback Nandy Park, East Bank Demerara (EBD), on the eastern side and at La Grange, West Bank Demerara (WBD) on the western side.
Already, the Guyana Government has allocated some $21.1 billion in the 2022 Budget towards work on the bridge. It will have a lifespan of 100 years. This new bridge will replace the ageing floating Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB), which has outlived its lifespan by several decades.