2004 report on Berbice bridge proposal ignored

A 2004 report, which criticised aspects of the Louis Berger feasibility study done on the Berbice bridge, has been ignored and government is moving to build the bridge using the Berger recommendations.

The two major criticisms, contained in a December 19, 2004 report from Development Consultants Inc (DCI), were that costs were grossly underestimated and the locations chosen were not the most economic. This newspaper tried to elicit a response from Geeta Singh of the Berbice Bridge Company Inc on the findings of the report to no avail.

The DCI report said that with regard to construction and maintenance the cost for the floating solution appeared to be highly underestimated.

According to the report, the unit rates for periodic road maintenance that the French firm the Louis Berger Group proposed are: US$75,000 per km with a thick overlay every eight years when the road is in poor condition and US$55,000 for a thin overlay every seven years when the road is in good condition. But the DCI report said that taking into consideration the relatively poor soils at the site and the prevalent climatic conditions of the area, the proposed unit rate for this activity seemed very low.

“The tasks associated with periodic maintenance are not limited to the application of an overlay. They should include, among others, replacement of material in the base and sub-base courses, re-compaction of same, stabilisation of the side slopes of the road embankment, application of asphaltic concrete overlay, dredging and repairs to irrigation canals and others,” the study said.

On bridge maintenance, the report said the Berger Group estimated the costs of routine bridge maintenance at US$3 per square metre (m2) and US$1 per m2 for the floating steel and the fixed (pre-stressed concrete) structural solutions respectively. “DSC finds the unit cost of maintenance for the fixed bridge and for the non-movable sections of the floating bridge acceptable and in consonance with similar structures. However, the unit cost for the movable section of the floating solution (steel structure) appears to be low,” the report said.

The document said that in the Berger report, there is no detailed provision of the unit prices that were used for each of the structural elements that comprise the floating truss bridge solution, while these details are given for the fixed bridge. “Fortunately, the information provided by the Florida Department of Transportation for construction and operation of fixed and floating bridges could be used to check and correct the cost of the floating bridge proposal. According to these standards, it appears that the Louis Berger report substantially underestimated the direct investment costs and subsequent maintenance of the floating bridge,” DCI said.

The firm said that based on the preliminary cost analysis it performed, the least costly alternative is a fixed bridge on crossing ‘A’, at the location of Providence on the east bank and Augsburg on the west bank of the Berbice River.

The DCI report said the Louis Berger Group did not carefully consider the cost that would come with a disruption of traffic in the case of something going wrong during the opening of the bridge to accommodate ocean-going vessels. DCI said that the fixed bridge does not interrupt traffic at any time.

James McAllister of the PNCR-1G recently submitted a motion to Parliament calling on the government to review its decision to build a floating bridge and hold off on construction for three months.

In the motion he said that this was to enable the Economic Services Committee (ESC) of the National Assembly to investigate and identify all factors that influenced the government’s decision to proceed with a floating bridge as against a fixed pre-stressed bridge at locations other than D’Edward and Crab Island.

The motion further wants the National Assembly to direct the Minister of Public Works and Communication to instruct the Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) to suspend all works pending the outcome of the investigation by the ESC. The motion is expected to come up at today’s sitting of Parliament.

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