Demerara Harbour Bridge set for major pontoon change

-closed to marine traffic from June 16-20, no vehicles for six hours on June 17

General Manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC), Rawlston Adams says $109M will be spent to replace two pontoons under the bridge, which will see it closed to marine traffic for four days from Friday, June 16th and vehicular traffic for six hours on Saturday, June 17th.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Adams said that the pontoons have not been changed in over 18 years and have reached the end of their lifespan. He said that under normal circumstances the pontoons would have been replaced by temporary ones and then taken to be rehabilitated. However, in this case that is not an option and as such the Management of the DHBC has made the decision to replace the pontoons with new ones.

General Manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) Rawlston Adams (centre) along with other members of the team that will be overseeing the works next week.

“The pontoon we are about to change houses all the winches and hydraulic pipes and replacement is not an option because you have to replace it and immediately hook up back the pipes so that the bridge can retract,” he said.

Adams said that planning for the project started since 2014 and they have since spent some $93M to fabricate two large pontoons, which was done by Industrial Fabrications (InFab). He explained that InFab was hired to do the works because they were the original company 18 years ago, under their former name, IEL, responsible for the installation of the winches under the Bridges Rehabilitation Programme. “…And so management thought it wise to rehire InFab at a cost of just about $16M,” Adams noted.

The project will be done in two phases, which will see the two pontoons installed on separate dates and Adams pointed out that the total cost for both phases is approximately $109M.

“The project has two phases and right now we are in phase one where one pontoon will be installed and then we will go back to planning to install the other pontoon,” he said, while explaining that the pontoon on the western end of the retractor span will be installed first, which will result in the bridge being closed to marine traffic from Friday, June 16 until Tuesday, June 20.

“Friday, June 16, will be the last retraction and at that stage we will start disassembling of the hydraulic pipes and removal of winches. On Saturday we will then close the bridge to vehicular traffic because that is when we will be changing out the pontoon. Saturday and Sunday we will reassemble the hydraulic system and hopefully Monday we will run a test and all things being equal I expect that the time when I press that button the bridge starts to retract”, he said.

According to Adams, when choosing the date to close the bridge and change the pontoons,  notice was taken of factors such as the tide, the end date of CXC examinations and the weather. “We looked at the calendar and decided that it has to be a neap tide and we had to make sure that whatever we do does not affect CXC students because we have to close the bridge down,” he added.

While there was the option of doing the work with the bridge open to facilitate the flow of marine traffic, Adams explained that they did not want to take any risk of there being issues with closing the bridge, which would’ve caused a major hindrance to vehicular traffic flowing over the bridge.

“…If something should go wrong it means you will have a difficulty in closing it back for vehicular traffic and so we decided that we will keep the bridge closed. We prefer to do it this way and that will ensure that there is vehicular traffic crossing the bridge,” Adams noted, while pointing out that if there were to be delays with the works only the marine traffic would be affected.

He said the corporation has held several meetings with companies which have vessels traversing the river and they were made aware of the time the bridge will be closed off and have since adjusted their schedules to factor in the works.

Adams said that they are “keeping their fingers crossed that the weather will break for us”  and from all indications, the weather is expected to be favourable. If inclement weather prevails, Adams said that the work will still go on but would be delayed.

“We don’t want moisture getting into the hydraulic pipes. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.

In terms of the works being done at night, Adams explained that this was not a plausible option since there isn’t enough space for  lights to be installed.

“These works being done are very, very delicate work and we need to make sure we have adequate lighting. Under the bridge there is not much space (where)  lighting can be put and the workers’ safety is paramount. We are working over the river and not on the road where you have space to manoeuvre,” Adams noted.

Adams explained that they had initially considered doing both pontoons at the same time but it would’ve meant that they would’ve had to shut down vehicular traffic for a longer time and they would not have been able to deal with the constant movement of the bridge from heavy vehicles while changing two pontoons.

When questioned on why the corporation is expending so much to repair the bridge when there is the possibility of a new bridge over the Demerara on the horizon, Adams said, “Why not? If something goes wrong with this one? This is what we have now. The pontoons need to be changed. I cannot and management cannot operate in that manner. We have to invest and continue investing in this one. There are no other alternatives to cross the river.”

He added that while $100M might seem like a lot of money, it eventually translates into saving billions by having the bridge in operation. “…But imagine not having it, you will lose billions,” he said.

In terms of finances to do the works, Adams pointed out that at the starting of the year, since they had raised the tolls, they had recorded a slight reduction in volume, which they initially thought might have been linked to the implementation of paid parking in the city, however, the numbers have since risen to where they expect it to be.

“Revenue is where we expect it and I think we have enough revenue to sustain our operations,” he said.

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