Former Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn’s letter in the Sunday Stabroek (17/9/17) about a new Demerara River Bridge is both timely and thoughtful.
What is emerging in this important discussion on the nature of the solution for an improved crossing of the Demerara River is that a 4-lane, high-level bridge which does not impede either vehicular or marine traffic is perhaps the optimal solution.
As mentioned by former Minister Benn, in 2013 Dr. Raymond Charles, preeminent UWI lecturer and infrastructure specialist, conducted the New Demerara River Crossing Prefeasibility Study for the then Ministry of Public Works. Based on the data and resources available to him at the time Dr. Charles concluded 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”.
We do not know what the findings are of the current feasibility study conducted by LievenseCSO as the study is not available to the Guyanese public or engineering community.
That being said what is also becoming evident as stated in Mr. Benn’s letter as well as from reading between the lines of Minister Patterson’s recent pronouncements on the subject, is that we perhaps cannot afford such a structure at this juncture of our country’s development.
If the issue is indeed one of affordability should we not wait until we have, for example, a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) financed with revenues from the oil and gas sector and from which we could make disbursements for key pieces of national infrastructure as defined in a hopefully to-be-developed National Infrastructure Plan? Funds from the SWF coupled with private financing could then lead to a viable public private partnership (3P) project which would realise the optimal design solution.
What we should avoid doing is to plunge headlong into developing a sub-optimal solution such as a fixed ‘3-lane bridge with a moveable section’. Any fixed structure would be required to be built to last at least 70 years so it is important that we get the decision right. The construction of a sub-optimal solution would have far reaching implications both in terms of long-term social and economic benefits which would be foregone as well as acting as a substantial constraint to the economic development along the Demerara River upstream of the structure.
In the interim, the authorities should proceed with the increased capacity, traffic management and temporary demand suppression measures outlined by former Minister Benn which all appear to be sound and sensible and which if implemented holistically would definitely alleviate the current challenges to an efficient crossing of the Demerara River in the short to medium term and certainly until such time as we can afford to implement what is perhaps the optimal solution, a 4-lane, high-level bridge which does not impede either vehicular or marine traffic.
(Name and address provided)