Government is inviting expressions of interest (EOIs) from local and foreign parties to be a partner in the new Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB).
“Responses to this EOI will be used to guide the selection of a partner or partners who will work with the government to design and implement the project. The project will be implemented via a special purpose company, financed by debt and equity contributions, following a public/private partnership model,” government’s holding company, the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) said in an ad in the state-owned newspaper, the Sunday Chronicle.
There have long been calls for a new bridge across the Demerara River and over the past years, the 35-year-old structure has been plagued by mechanical problems. It has been pointed out that the growth in traffic has taken a toll on the bridge, which opened in 1978 and has been the major artery linking Georgetown to the West Demerara. The floating steel structure, which measures 6074 feet (1851.4 metres), spans the Demerara River from the village of Peter’s Hall on the eastern side to Plantation Meer-Zorgen on the western end.
In his presentation to the budget debate in April, Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn said that the DHB will have to remain in operation for at least the next six years.
NICIL said that the project will be implemented using a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) model, in a manner similar to the Berbice Bridge. This model for the Berbice Bridge has been criticized for resulting in high crossing tariffs for Berbicians.
It said that three possible sites have been proposed including a location close to the existing bridge; another site at Houston, East Bank Demerara to Versailles, West Bank Demerara; and the third at New Hope, EBD to Laurentia Catherina, WBD. “Any form of fixed crossing will be considered,” NICIL said.
The Houston-Versailles location may be the most feasible, the pre-feasibility study says. “This prefeasibility study has shown that a new high level four-lane fixed bridge structure at Houston – Versailles is the only economically feasible alternative, providing benefits to society that can amount to a minimum of some US$222M over a 70-year life cycle at a capital cost of around US$264.5M. The other alternatives proved to be uneconomical over the period. User tolls were considered to increase at a rate of 2% per year above the existing regime,” it says.
Among the major advantages to this alternative are that a considerable amount of traffic will be removed from the EBD road south of the new bridge; shorter commuter time for travel to and from west Demerara; business opportunities will be created along the new road; and marine traffic will have unrestricted use of the navigational channel significantly reducing costs associated with demurrage.
The major disadvantages to this alternative are disruption to businesses at the present bridge site at Peter’s Hall; considerable social and financial costs to acquire the right of way at Houston; and higher construction costs for bridge and bridge approaches, the study says.
An average of 13, 781 vehicles use the bridge daily and the structure has passed its useful life and presents not only challenging operations and maintenance demand for the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC), but also impedes the progression of improved mobility between the east and west banks of Demerara, the study says. 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, it added. It said that a 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.
“A detailed feasibility study should be done to incorporate exogenous costs and benefits not considered in this study, as well as a financial analysis that addresses the concerns of project financing and environmental impacts,” the pre-feasibility study says.
The existing two lane floating bridge was constructed in 1978 by the UK firm Thomas Storey Engineers Limited and had a life of 10 years. From 1995 to 1998 the bridge underwent major rehabilitation by the Damien Ship Yards of the Netherlands at a cost of US$9M and an extended life of 15 years (from 1995). At present the DHBC carries out intensive annual maintenance and element replacement activities on the bridge structure to provide a continuous level of service, and this can be coupled with increasing traffic volumes and level of government subventions to warrant consideration of bridge replacement,’ the pre-feasibility study says.
State-owned ferries ceased working on the river several years ago and its means that commuters today have to rely solely on speed boats. Commission-ed on July 2, 1978, the Demerara Harbour Bridge is a 6,074-foot (1,851 m) long floating toll bridge. It has a pedestrian foot walk and a raised section, under which small vessels pass. A retractor span allows for the passage of large vessels. Construction of the bridge began in May 1976. There are 61 spans in the bridge numbered 1 to 61 going from east to west. When the bridge was commissioned, its initial life span was ten years. The bridge has undergone rehabilitation and repair works on several occasions since.
Today the bridge carries some 14,000 vehicles per day and the current growth in traffic is around 8 %, according to the pre-feasibility study. “The rapid growth in traffic across the bridge comes as a consequence of the Government of Guyana Housing Sector Development Plan for Regions 3 and 4 where approximately 50,000 new house lots have been distributed to middle and low income earners within those two regions. Simul-taneously, the increased development in the agricultural and commercial sectors in Region 3 and other productive sectors such as mining has significantly increased the daily usage of the existing bridge,” it says.
“The immediate consequence of this rapid growth in traffic has been the marked decline in the level of service provided by the bridge. In an effort to provide increased capacity, the management of the DHBC in 2008 implemented a measure which saw the temporary daily conversion of the facility into a uni-directional two lane bridge for 20 to 30 minutes at a time during the morning and afternoon peak hours,” the study says, adding that with the current and projected traffic growth and the rapid deterioration of some of the primary components of the DHB, construction of a new bridge has become imperative.
The study had also noted that since 2008 the bridge has undergone capital repairs in excess of US$10M which equates to an average annual maintenance cost of approximately US$2M or US$ 1.1M/ km. “This is considerable when one considers that the bridge’s average annual revenue for the past 10 years was about US$1.2M. According to a 2012 DHBC Report between 2008 and 2012, 4,696 out of a total of 7,988 deck plates were replaced (60%); 82 out of a total of 121 pontoons were rehabilitated (68%); 162 out of a total of 242 buoys were installed (69%); and 235 out of a total of 486 connecting posts were replaced (48%),” it says.
“Considering the rigorous maintenance/repairs activities which had to be done over such a short period of time, it is plausible to conclude that the structure is beyond the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced,” the study noted.