Following harsh criticisms from the political opposition and other stakeholders over the current design and implementation of the new three lane, retractable Demerara River Crossing project to be located at Houston, East Bank Demerara (EBD), the incumbent Administration has signaled its intention to now construct a fixed four-lane bridge.
This was confirmed by Finance Minister Winston Jordan who was quoted in media as saying, among other things, that “Several people put in for different kinds of bridges. Most of them put in for a four-lane fixed bridge so I think the decision will be to go back out for new Request for Proposals for a four-lane fixed bridge.”
He also attributed the change indirectly to the interests expressed by Chinese firms at China’s 9th International Infrastructure and Construction Forum.
The new bridge is intended to replace the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB).
In February of this year, Chinese Ambassador to Guyana Cui Jianchun, had stated that he was not impressed with the current (old) design of the new Demerara River bridge to be located at Houston, noting that it is not in keeping with the 21st Century.
“I am really concerned about [new] Demerara Bridge…I have talked to the Minister of Public Infrastructure but I cannot tell you the details, but I said if we are still building a floating bridge, this is not 21st century,” the Ambassador told media operatives during a lecture at the University of Guyana.
Government also faced considerable flack for the project from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
The party’s leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo had criticized Government’s approach in allowing the contractors to take the lead in helping to design the new bridge, outlining that by going that route the incumbent Administration has displayed that it is unsure about what it is undertaking.
Jagdeo recalled that the aim was to have three contractors who would provide proposals either to fund the bridge or have a public/private partnership (PPP) with the Government.
Instead, the Opposition Leader has claimed, Government is waiting on the three handpicked contractors to decide on the design.
“Nowhere in the world has this happened. When we built the Berbice Bridge, we decided from the beginning that we wanted a public/ private partnership. We developed a prospectus and a financial model for the bridge. We changed the laws for a PPP, and we went out for tender for investors,” he said.
Jagdeo has said that, in the case of the new Demerara River Crossing project, the contractor will be leading the project.
He also reiterated his party’s non-support for a bridge which has to open.
“We will support the Government if it goes with a high-level bridge that is fixed; that has no opening. And once it is transparently pursued, we will support the Government.”
A $146M feasibility study done by Dutch consultant LievenseCSO, in addition to recommending a three-lane crossing with a retractable section to allow ships passage, recommend that toll rates be increased to 250 per cent of the present 2017 toll rates. It also recommends a 700 per cent increase in tolls for river vessels.
The report estimates that the project will cost some US$170M, inclusive of interest, in pre-financing costs during the construction.
With Government now shying away from major aspects of the feasibility study done by LievenseCSO, concerns will more than likely be raised about the Government funded $146M that was invested in the company for the said study, in addition to the concerns that PPP had raised in 2017 that the contract was awarded to the company without going to tendering.
Moreover, the PPP had lodged a formal complaint with the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), calling for an investigation into the selection and award of $146 million contract to the Dutch firm.