So­lu­tions to De­mer­ara River Cross­ing

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER - By Robe­son Benn

I find it in­cum­bent on me, as for­mer Min­is­ter of Public Works, to join the dis­cus­sion, un­fold­ing in the me­dia, with re­spect to the na­tional goal of achiev­ing an im­proved and ef­fi­cient New De­mer­ara Har­bour Bridge. In so do­ing, I would like to re­call, share and re­mind our­selves of the is­sues, un­der ac­tive con­sid­er­a­tion and staged im­ple­men­ta­tion, for the grad­ual im­prove­ment for cross­ing of the De­mer­ara River near Ge­orge­town.

The ne­ces­sity for im­prove­ment has been driven by the sig­nif­i­cant an­nual in­crease in the num­bers, sizes, and types of com­muter, ser­vice and goods trans­port re­quired in re­sponse to a grow­ing econ­omy over the years. For the Har­bour Bridge it­self, daily cross­ings had in­creased from some 14,000 to near 20,000, par­tic­u­larly at hol­i­day, and sport­ing and cul­tural event peaks. Near term pro­jec­tions in 2013 had in­di­cated that with the then cur­rent trends the De­mer­ara Har­bour Bridge was maxed-out for ef­fi­cient cross­ing of the river and that re­sponses had to be un­der­taken to avoid it be­com­ing a ma­jor bot­tle­neck in the trans­port sec­tor.

1) Im­prove­ments at the De­mer­ara Har­bour Bridge. Im­prove­ments at the DHB re­sulted in bet­ter bud­getary in­puts, on an an­nual ba­sis for pon­toons, moor­ings, ap­proaches and deck re­place­ment and re-sur­fac­ing. The in­tro­duc­tion of one –way traf­fic, at the tim­ings of, and in the di­rec­tion of peak flow was achieved pro­vid­ing for the most im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tion, to date, to al­le­vi­ate the con­ges­tion is­sue. Im­prove­ment in traf­fic man­age­ment, with the ma­jor in­put be­ing from the Guyana Po­lice Force, has been achieved with some qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Im­prove­ments con­sid­ered and pend­ing in­clude:

- Peak-hour ride shar­ing with peak toll pay­ments on the western end for ve­hi­cles which do not meet the ride-shar­ing pa­ram­e­ters.

- Pre-paid elec­tronic recog­ni­tion and rapid ac­cess via ded­i­cated toll gates.

- Free large bus trans­fer at peaks over bridge from western end to eastern end with ter­mi­na­tions at Hous­ton and Prov­i­dence.

- Geo­met­ric im­prove­ments at eastern end to achieve con­tin­u­ous, seam­less, un­re­stricted exit north­wards from bridge to East Bank High­way, and sim­i­lar west­ward ac­cess to bridge from the East Bank High­way.

- As­so­ciated im­prove­ments re­lated to the in­stal­la­tion of pedes­trian over­passes on the East Bank and the grad­ual re­duc­tion and even­tual ces­sa­tion of garbage and sand truck tran­sits. Garbage to be dis­posed of in re­gion of ori­gin, thereby not go­ing to Haags Bosch, and sand move­ment, down and across the river, by barge traf­fic.

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2) Im­prove­ments in Wa­ter Taxi Ser­vice. Im­prove­ments in the Wa­ter Taxi Ser­vice re­lated to im­prove­ments in safety, com­fort, am­bi­ence and ef­fi­ciency of the units owned and op­er­ated pri­vately. A com­plete re­design of the stan­dard boat was ini­ti­ated by the pro­duc­tion of a pro­to­type by the Mar­itime Ad­min­is­tra­tion De­part­ment. The re­quire­ment for in­stalled flota­tion spa­ces and the fit­ting of in­ner tran­soms, splash­guards and sheds elim­i­nated the safety and com­fort is­sues. The all-round im­prove­ments, in the level and qual­ity of ser­vice, has re­sulted in a ma­jor in­crease in the con­fi­dence in and uti­liza­tion of wa­ter taxis. This has ce­mented their place as a sig­nif­i­cant and a con­tin­u­ing vi­able ad­junct to river cross­ing op­tions for com­muters, on foot or park­ing and rid­ing, be­tween the city and Vreed-en-Hoop. The in­tro­duc­tion of af­ter dusk ser­vices was im­ple­mented to 22:00 hours with the pro­vi­sion of suit­able vis­i­bil­ity and nav­i­ga­tion light­ing.

Im­prove­ments con­sid­ered and pend­ing in­clude:

- The in­stal­la­tion of float­ing dock­ing and berthing sys­tems at Stabroek and Vree­den-Hoop Stellings to im­prove ac­cess and rapid turn­around, elim­i­nat­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for com­muters and sys­tem ef­fi­ciency, on daily tidal vari­a­tions and par­tic­u­larly at the spring tides.

- The search to es­tab­lish new Wa­ter Taxi ser­vice land­ings was ini­ti­ated to ease the length, time and cost to com­mute for per­sons wish­ing to cross im­me­di­ately from ar­eas on the West Bank of De­mer­ara. Sites looked at were Di- amond/Grove, Prov­i­dence/ Mocha, La Grange and Wales.

3) Rein­tro­duc­tion of Trans­port and Har­bours Ferry Ser­vice Stabroek/Vreed-en Hoop. Con­sid­er­a­tion was ac­tively given to the rein­tro­duc­tion of the THD De­mer­ara ferry ser­vice ply­ing Stabroek to Vree­den-Hoop as the next medium term in­ter­ven­tion for ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic as a con­ges­tion ease or back up to the DHB is­sues. In fur­ther­ance of this a visit was made to the United States of Amer­ica to ex­am­ine for pos­si­ble pur­chase the MV “Twin Capes”, owned by, and on of­fer from, the Delaware River and Bay Author­ity.

This ves­sel had the ca­pac­ity to take 895 pas­sen­gers and 100 cars, or equiv­a­lents, in a com­fort­able roll-off roll-on mode for rapid tran­sit op­er­a­tions. A mod­est util­i­sa­tion of ten round trips per day at peak hours would have largely elim­i­nated the peak con­ges­tion at the DHB. Un­for­tu­nately this ini­tia­tive fell afoul of the cut­ting and past­ing of funds en­gen­dered by par­lia­men­tary bud­get cuts and went into abeyance with the com­ing of the 2015 Elec­tions.

The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and up­grade to the Stabroek and Vreed-en-Hoop Stellings were a nec­es­sary part of this idea.

4) Re­place­ment of the De­mer­ara Har­bour Bridge. For­mer Pres­i­dent Jagdeo, ini­ti­ated the re­newed ef­fort to re­solve the is­sue of a DHB re­place­ment to pro­vide for the na­tional in­fras­truc­tural re­sponses nec­es­sary for con­tin­ued growth and de­vel­op­ment. The gov­ern­ment and the min­istry’s re­ponse were clar­i­fied in Na­tional Trans­port Sec­tor Pol­icy doc­u­ments.

In 2013, the Min­istry of Public Works ini­ti­ated a Prefea­si­bil­ity Study for A New De­mer­ara River Bridge.This study was un­der taken by Dr Ray­mond Charles, a Univer­sity Of The West Indies Pro­fes­sor in Trans­port Stud­ies, as con­sul­tant along with the Cen­tral Trans­port Plan­ning Unit of the min­istry. Much data and other in­for­ma­tion was pro­vided by the Min­istry Of Public Work’s Works Ser­vices Group’s sec­tions, the De­mer­ara Har­bour Bridge Cor­po­ra­tion and the MARAD, amongst oth­ers. The study was re­quired to de­ter­mine the op­tions for bridge cross­ing of the De­mer­ara River with a view to im­prove both sur­face land and ma­rine traf­fic ef­fi­cien­cies go­ing well into the fu­ture.

Three sites were ex­am­ined dur­ing this study, these were: Peter’s Hall/Meer Zor­gen (the cur­rent Peter’s Hall DHB site); Hous­ton/Ver­sailles; and New Hope/Lau­ren­tia Catherinia. For the Peter’s Hall site two op­tions were con­sid­ered, one be­ing con­tin­ued op­er­a­tion, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and main­te­nance of the DHB in its present form and, the other op­tion be­ing the con­struc­tion of a new float­ing, four lane bridge ad­ja­cent to the cur­rent bridge. For both the Hous­ton and New hope sites the es­tab­lish­ment of a new four lane fixed bridge struc­ture was con­sid­ered.

Hous­ton/Ver­sailles was iden­ti­fied, in the study as be­ing the most fea­si­ble site at a cap­i­tal cost of some US$260 mil­lion. The study rec­om­mended the pur­suance of a de­tailed fea­si­bil­ity study “…to in­cor­po­rate ex­oge­nous costs and ben­e­fits, as well as a fi­nan­cial anal­y­sis to ad­dress the con­cerns of project fi­nanc­ing and environmental im­pacts. Is­sues re­lated to the land ac­qui­si­tion costs for in­te­gra­tion of the bridge with the road net­work and the amount of work needed to achieve this in­te­gra­tion, as ad­di­tional ex­penses were im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. The next step of un­der­tak­ing geotech­ni­cal stud­ies was not ac­cepted at cab­i­net, nor pur­sued in any form. The prin­ci­pal rea­son be­ing the high cost and bur­den to the trea­sury and in­come flows for such an un­der­tak­ing.

A sub­se­quent in­ter­na­tional Re­quest for Pro­pos­als, via NICIL, for a BOOT ar­range­ment pre­sented ad­di­tional is­sues with much higher re­quired tolls, among other re­quests, which were not sus­tain­able. The ex­pe­ri­ence of Suri­name, which built a num­ber of high level bridges, and Trinidad, where sig­nif­i­cant in­fras­truc­tural in­vest­ments have been made in roads and bridges, sug­gested that a more cau­tious ap­proach, based on fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity and com­men­su­ra­bil­ity had to be un­der­taken. And we are aware that of the two ref­er­enced coun­tries, Trinidad and has an oil and gas econ­omy, and the other has petroleum as a sig­nif­i­cant part of its econ­omy.

It is, there­fore, grossly in­cor­rect to say that the “PPP ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­ported lo­ca­tion for new De­mer­ara River Bridge … as a page 7 head­line as an as­ser­tion at­trib­uted to Min­is­ter of Public In­fra­struc­ture, Hon’ble David Pat­ter­son. The prefea­si­bil­ity study was dis­counted on the bases of the rea­sons I ad­duce above at Cab­i­net and in meet­ings with Pres­i­dent Ramo­tar and then Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, Dr Ashni Singh. And one should note that find­ings of ground and other con­di­tions, which are non-con­form­ing, have the po­ten­tial to com­pletely dis­credit and al­low for the dis­card of pre­vi­ously held as­sump­tions on the com­ple­tion of a de­tailed fea­si­bil­ity study. The fact of the non-pur­suance of the project, as pro­posed in the prefea­si­bil­ity study, is proof enough of its non-ac­cep­tance by the then PPP/C ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The po­si­tion of the min­istry then de­volved to seek­ing to con­sider the build­ing of a new, and im­proved, float­ing bridge along the model of the suc­cess­fully com­pleted Ber­bice Bridge, but with three lanes, ad­ja­cent to the cur­rent one. A fast draw­bridge-type open­ing for river traf­fic was sug­gested. Cost sav­ings would have been in­her­ent in de­sign type cho­sen, uti­liza­tion of the cur­rent park plazas at both ends of the struc­ture, a much re­duced re­quire­ment for ac­quir­ing land ( up­grade of north­ern ac­cess roads to merge with the East Bank high­way would be re­quired). The DHB team was re­quired to ex­plore and visit bridge sites in Flor­ida, with re­spect to the draw­bridge de­signs, and Wash­ing­ton State, where a new float­ing bridge was be­ing com­pleted across the Puget Sound to take care of in­creased traf­fic vol­umes across older float­ing type bridges in that area.

The de­vel­op­ment of hous­ing ar­eas on the East Bank De­mer­ara, even past the ma­jor com­mu­nity of Grove/Di­a­mond in­di­cates that in­creas­ing sub­urbs, south of Ge­orge­town, and on the West Bank and West Coast of De­mer­ara in­di­cate that all the needs for pri­mary in­fra­struc­ture projects are not nec­es­sar­ily re­lated to Ge­orge­town. The study ini­ti­ated for the Ogle/Grove By­pass road project, to be com­pleted as a re­sult of fund­ing pre­cip­i­tated by for­mer Pres­i­dent Ramo­tar with the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia un­der­scores the is­sue of the avoid­ance of trans­fer­ring con­ges­tion nodes closer to Ge­orge­town.

Other than is­sues re­lated to the avail­abil­ity of eco­nomic, so­cial, foun­da­tion, environmental and other im­pact stud­ies, the over­all ques­tion of the re­sult­ing fis­cal space and de­vel­op­ment foot­print for avail­able fund­ing, both at the gov­ern­men­tal and pri­vate sec­tor lev­els, have to be con­sid­ered. And com­par­isons for con­clu­sive mod­el­ling to de­ter­mine the best op­tion from a num­ber of al­ter­na­tives has to uti­lize com­par­isons of like things – the comparison ma­trix ought to con­sider sim­i­lar struc­ture models across the range of sites for a true un­der­stand­ing of the choices on of­fer.

Given the ab­sence of more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion, and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of total costs re­lated to best uses of fund­ing, my con­sid­ered opin­ion re­mains with a site ad­ja­cent to the cur­rent bridge lo­ca­tion as the most work­able solution.

Any fi­nal pre­ferred solution will present the op­por­tu­nity of re­moval of the cur­rent bridge to Ku­rupukari, for the Esse­quibo River, cross­ing with the ben­e­fit of con­vert­ing the Lin­den/Lethem road to a 24 hour tran­sit from its cur­rent 10 hour day­light sta­tus, thus im­prov­ing trade with the Brazil north-east and syn­er­giz­ing agri­cul­tural and other de­vel­op­ments in the Rupu­nuni. En­gi­neer Joseph Holder, who has given ster­ling ser­vice and ad­vice in the erec­tion, and op­er­a­tion and main­te­nance of the DHB has been con­vinc­ing by ad­vo­cat­ing that a float­ing bridge can last as long as it is prop­erly main­tained and its el­e­ments are re­placed, as nec­es­sary.

We owe, to the Chair­men and di­rec­tors and the man­age­ment and staff of the DHB, along with na­tional engi­neer­ing ser­vice providers, a sig­nif­i­cant debt of grat­i­tude for their con­tri­bu­tions in keep­ing the fa­cil­ity go­ing over the many in­ter­est­ing, and some­times test­ing years past.

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