The installation of an arch at Cummings Lodge on the Rupert Craig Highway, East Coast Demerara (ECD) yesterday morning was deferred to 6 pm after it resulted in chaos for thousands of commuters, some of whom were delayed for as long as three hours.
The arch, a gift to the country from Trinidadian conglomerate ANSA McAl is being installed by Industrial Fabrication (InFab).
The Rupert Craig High-way was scheduled for closure from the University of Guyana access road to the Ogle Airstrip Road from 9 am until midnight yesterday to allow for the installation of the arch. But this closure, compounded by another at Liliendaal for major bridge repairs, occasioned long lines of traffic that were only able to move at a snail’s pace. Thus the road was reopened around 2 pm yesterday, with an abject mea culpa from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. When Stabroek News visited the Rupert Craig Highway around 3.30 pm traffic was flowing once again.
Earlier yesterday, outraged at the long delays on the East Coast, members of the public vented on social media platforms Facebook and WhatsApp. Those who were affected questioned why the arch could not have been installed over the weekend or at night, when there would be less traffic.
Contacted, ANSA McAl’s Managing Director Beverly Harper said, “Obviously neither us nor the Ministry of Public Infrastructure expected this and the last thing we wanted was a traffic jam of this magnitude.”
Harper added that even though they had held several meetings with the Traffic Department and the Ministry of Public Infra-structure, it was more to handle than they had initially thought and planned for. “We thought we would be able to, in fact, we only needed two more hours to free up the road and we could’ve continued, but such is life,” Harper said. She pointed out that it was Minister of Public Infra-structure David Patterson who walked to the site and decided that they had to pause the installation and free up the road, given the major traffic jam.
During the traffic build-up, some drivers created new routes, using the streets in Industry and Cummings Lodge. Before long, traffic had snarled on those narrow streets as well, as vehicles competed for space.
Around 11 am yesterday, taxis, minibuses, trucks and private vehicles crawled through almost every street in Cummings Lodge and Industry to enter and exit the city, manoeuvring through the potholed roads without complaint.
Traffic police present at the Railway Embankment and Rupert Craig Highway junctions were simply overwhelmed by the wave of traffic. The junctions of diversion were from Liliendaal/Turkeyen to the embankment through the University of Guyana Road and from Ogle/ Industry being diverted to the embankment through cross streets. There was heavy build-up on the embankment, as far back as Plaisance. There were no traffic officers on the routes created by drivers. There was also a traffic build-up from Conver-sation Tree to the west.
The congestion took a toll on University of Guyana students who were writing exams and persons who were scheduled to get on flights at the Eugene F Correia International Airport, Ogle.
Airlines were forced to delay some flights after they were informed of the traffic congestion.
Air Services Limited and Trans Guyana Airways had passengers who were affected by the congestion and in order to accommodate them, they made changes to their flight schedules. Roraima Air-ways said it was not affected.
A representative of Trans Guyana Airways told this newspaper there were two delays of flights to Suriname and Lethem. Due to the situation, he said, the flights were delayed for at least 45 minutes.
Peter Ferreira, Superintendent of Operations at Air Services Limited, said many passengers missed their flights and the company had to disregard its policy of no refund or rescheduled flights to accommodate them. He said that while the majority of the passengers were accommodated on flights the airline still has overbooked flights for today. And since flights were also delayed, he said, the possibility exists that some of those delays would roll over into today.
Contacted, acting Regional Education Officer of Region Four Tiffany Harvey told Stabroek News that there were no reports of any students missing the Caribbean Examinations Council exams yesterday. She explained that systems are in place for supervisors to report immediately if any student is late for the examination. Harvey said she was in constant contact with the schools and received no report of any late arrival.
Edward Boyer, Chair-man of the Private Sector Commission told Stabroek News last night that he had not been informed the traffic build-up had a negative effect on any businesses. He noted that the situation was temporary. However, he expressed concern over the length of time being taken on the construction of the Liliendaal Bridge on the railway embankment. “This is an important bridge and work on this should have been ongoing day and night,” he said.
Meanwhile, explaining the rationale behind the attempt to install the arch yesterday, Harper said that the plan had been to have it done last weekend but the company, InFab, had run into complications, which could not have been avoided. As such, it was forced to go back to the drawing board, fix the issues and push back the date of installation to yesterday.
While they also considered putting it off for another day, Harper related that they would have needed more time and daylight to remove some of the parts that were already there, which would not have made much sense.
After the installation was halted, Harper explained, InFab had to quickly custom build a 100 feet pole to equip with lights, so as to work through the night.
She further explained that since ANSA McAl was hosting the Anthony Sabga Caribbean Awards tomorrow in Georgetown, and a host of executives and dignitaries would be travelling from other Caribbean countries to attend, they wanted to finish the arch in order to have the inauguration with all of the executives present.
“We have created the plaque, which was done for the commissioning, and we have about 45 people coming from Trinidad and elsewhere for the awards and it became even more significant with the (recent) passing of Dr Sabga because he played an important role in the decision,” Harper said. She explained that it was Sabga, who she said had a soft spot for Guyana, who convinced the company to undertake the project to fund and oversee the installation of the arch.
Harper also pointed out that another factor that influenced the company’s decision to try to install the arch yesterday was the need to complete it before the 51st Independence Anniversary, which is two weeks away. “…So we wanted to do it before they would’ve left and before the anniversary celebrations than to have to do it and have them come back,” she added.
The Government of Guyana yesterday apologized to the public for the inconvenience caused to commuters and sought to assure the public that every effort will be made to minimise the disruptions to traffic as the arch is installed, a press statement from the Department of Public Information said.
In a second release, the Public Infrastructure Ministry said that during deliberations the ministry had considered the option of working during the night but the persons had expressed concerns over the safety of motorists and installation contractors.