Minister of Works Desmond Bannister.
By Neil Hartnell
Tribune Business Editor
The road expansion package unveiled by the prime minister will “make a huge difference” to commerce and Bahamians’ “mental well-being”, a Cabinet minister said yesterday.
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that when combined these projects represented the most “ambitious” road infrastructure work seen on New Providence for some years.
He voiced optimism, though, that the Ministry of Works now has sufficient technical staff with the right skills to “make it happen” and ease the traffic congestion nightmare many Bahamian motorists face when commuting to work and school from southern New Providence on week day mornings.
While declining to reveal the total capital investment required, on the basis that the figures have yet to be approved by the Ministry of Finance, Mr Bannister said the government would need to acquire land from private owners “in a number of areas” to facilitate the various road expansions.
He added that his ministry hoped to proceed with virtually all the projects announced by Dr Hubert Minnis in his national address on Monday night during the 2019-2020 Budget year in a bid to further improve traffic flows in the densely populated Bahamian capital.
“We’re not a horse and buggy town any more, and a lot of the road networks resemble old Nassau,” Mr Bannister said of the rationale for undertaking such an infrastructure investment. “The reality is the nature of the challenge people have in getting around, having regard to the amount of traffic we have and the vehicles that continue to come online.
“You go on Gladstone Road from 7am to 10am any morning, and you find traffic backed all the way up. That’s not good for commerce, the mental well-being of Bahamians, and we’re going to do our best to make a difference. If we get most of it done we will make a huge difference.”
Among the upcoming works highlighted by the Prime Minister is the planned widening of the Gladstone Road corridor from two lanes to four, with design work for this project set to begin soon.
The Government also intends to extend the existing Milo Butler Highway southwards from Carmichael Road to Cowpen Road. This project will comprise a new four-lane dual carriageway, together with roundabouts and other traffic enhancing elements, while the section of Baillou Hill Road closest to Cowpen Road will also be widened from two lanes to four.
Mr Bannister said he was unable to provide figures on the total cost/investment because the Ministry of Finance is still vetting the proposed sums as part of its 2019-2020 Budget planning exercise.
“We’ve submitted our figures to Finance, and those figures come up to all the work we propose to do,” he added. “It’s not prudent for a minister to speak about those figures before they’re approved by Finance. Just about all of the things we’re hoping to proceed with, he’s [the Prime Minister] announced based on what we’ve given him for the year.
“A number of them are big ones. The challenge in getting these big things going has been the staffing at the Ministry of Works; to get the preliminary engineering and architectural submissions out before we do any major works.
“Now, as of Monday, we’re going to have a fairly adequate staff and next year anticipate being able to do a lot more work than we did this year,” Mr Bannister continued. “Cabinet has approved the hiring of a lot of technical staff. I’m really excited. We’ve gotten any number of young Bahamian professionals joining.
“I don’t recall us doing anything as ambitious as this in New Providence for quite a while, but we believe we have the team that can make it happen.”
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded New Providence Road Improvement Project, whose costs soared from an initial $40m in 2001 to around $200m by the time it was completed at the end of the last Ingraham administration, is likely the last time the island will have been home to such extensive roadworks.
Mr Bannister, meanwhile, said the Ministry of Works was “also hoping we can deal with Village Road”. Acknowledging that the Government will have to acquire “a lot of land” in the area to facilitate the project, he added: “We’re going to do some widening, some turning, make Village Road a whole lot more accessible and provide better access to transportation using it.”