Berbice bridge construction seen later this year or 2002
Study indicates sufficient traffic exists

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
June 19, 2001

Construction of the bridge across the Berbice River will not commence until later this year or early next year, Transport & Hydraulics Minister, Anthony Xavier said last week.

Xavier disclosed that presently the government is attempting to conclude the developmental agreements with Ballast Nedam International, which will set out the details of the project.

He said Ballast Nedam's lawyers are currently examining the draft development agreement and it is hoped that this stage would be completed by the end of the month.

After this process is completed, Xavier said that a specific time period would be outlined to allow Ballast Nedam to come up with the equity financing it requires to undertake the US$38 million project.

President Bharrat Jagdeo had instructed Xavier to move immediately for financial closure on the Berbice River Bridge project and to also explore the implications on it of the worst case scenario for the bauxite industry in Berbice. The government is now mulling the option of merging Bermine and the Aroaima Bauxite Company's operation in Berbice but there is opposition to this move and if a viable alternative is not offered it could mean serious problems for the bauxite sector.

Xavier said that the implications of the bauxite sector restructuring on the bridge project are still being studied but that the government is going ahead with the project regardless.

He indicated that a traffic study conducted and being finalised shows that there is sufficient traffic to sustain the operations of the bridge. However, he said there will be implications for the ferry crossing as this would not be feasible and it would mean that it would either have to be phased out or be converted into a passenger shuttle like the ferry servicing the Demerara River.

Construction of the bridge across the Berbice River was to have commenced last November but the government and Ballast Nedam, the highest ranked bid for the Berbice Bridge Project, could not conclude the agreements necessary for this.

A memorandum of understanding setting a two-month deadline for issues which had to be put in place preparatory to the signing of final agreements was signed in September 2000 but this period was further extended.

Xavier indicated that since then, the pre?and post elections tension has led to a stalling in the talks between the two sides. He said it has also been realised that there is an enormous amount of work which has to proceed to ensure that all the required details are in place before the final agreements are signed. This huge amount of paperwork, he said, is what is going to delay actual construction of the bridge.

Ballast Nedam was among five other bidders for the contract to build the bridge across the Berbice River in a build, own and transfer operation.

Financing of the project has been and is still expected to be a challenging prospect for the government.