Consultants working along with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure have identified Houston/Versailles as the most economically viable option for siting a new Demerara River Bridge, out of seven identified sites.
At a consultation on Wednesday at the Pegasus Hotel, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson emphasised that no definitive decision has yet been taken in regards to the bridge’s construction but noted too that “doing nothing is not an option,” as the cost of maintaining the Demerara Harbour Bridge and keeping it active will be a “tremendous burden.”
The ministry is currently engaged in consultations with stakeholders regarding the development of the new bridge and its accompanying road system, which is expected to reduce traffic congestion and boost economic growth on the West Bank of Demerara.
The other six site options include connections between Eccles and Schoonord; Eccles and Meer Zorgen; Peters Hall and Meer Zorgen; Nandy Park and Meer Zorgen; Nandy Park and La Grange; and New Hope and Laurentia Catherina.
Houston, Peters Hall, and New Hope were the sites shortlisted for the development, but after considering the cost of constructing the bridge as well as new road networks to supplement it, Houston was found to be the most feasible, after research was conducted by consultancy group LievenseCSO, which operates out of the Netherlands and is spearheading the project.
A previous pre-feasibility study, the findings of which had been made public in 2013, had also concluded that the Houston-Versailles option was the most feasible for a new bridge. “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$222 million over a 70-year life cycle at a capital cost of around US$264.5 million,” it had said.
The findings of the new LievenseCSO study, which included a road traffic analysis, cost analysis, shipping analysis an environmental and social impact assessment, as well as possible design options, were relayed at the consultation held on Wednesday.
The consultation comprised stakeholders from the business community, including Banks DIH Limited, Mahdia Gold, Go-Invest and Republic Bank; shipping companies, including Muneshwers Limited and other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Indian High Commission, the Maritime Administration Department and the European Union.
According to economist Joel Van der Beek, of LievenseCSO, the new bridge system will increase navigation both to the city and the West Bank, and eventually result in the latter being self-reliant. As of now, he stated, the Demerara Harbour Bridge is “being felt more as an obstacle than a connection.”
There are three configurations currently being considered for the bridge, but it was stated that a three-lane bridge will likely be pursued to aid in traffic flow. The configurations being considered are: a two-lane low level bridge, a three-lane low level bridge, and a three-lane high level bridge.
According to the consultancy group’s team leader, Arie Mol, once a recommendation is made on the location and type of bridge that will be developed, work will begin on accessing funding.
The project, if the process is to begin in May as projected, should be completed as early as 2020, or as late as 2021, depending on the funding option.
The bridge it is estimated will cost US$150 million using government financing, and is projected to be completed by December 2020, if the process is started in May of this year as anticipated. In this option, construction will begin in May 2018, and the bridge should be completed in December 2020.
In another slide presented, the timeline, at a cost of US$100 million using the Public-Private Partnership model, would begin in May of this year, but construction would not commence until 2020, and would be completed in December, 2021.
Mol stated that once in operation, the new bridge will replace the steel structure of the current Demerara Harbour Bridge, which is close to the end of its lifespan. The new bridge is expected to have a lifespan of 50 years.
Patterson related that what had begun as a bridge crossing study had evolved to include a road development plan. With a new road network, however, land would have to be acquired on both sides of the river bank, causing displacement. Patterson indicated that persons whose property will be affected by this venture will be consulted in the coming phase.
The gist of the presentations at Wednesday’s consultation was that once completed, the new bridge system would provide efficient traffic flow and control.
Traffic Expert Jacqueline Mouws, who is also a consultant with LievenseCSO, noted that the main cause of traffic on the East Bank road is not just the limited capacity of the bridge, but the fact that only one route exists into the city. She stated that this limited capacity is further reduced by the driving habits of local vehicle users, making the current capacity of the bridge a lot lower than what is usually seen on a four-lane route. By creating an alternative route for road users, it is expected that traffic will be better managed.
There have long been calls for a new bridge across the Demerara River and the current 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 6,074 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.