By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government must invest $40m in roadworks throughout The Bahamas “just to get through this year”, a Cabinet minister has revealed, as it aims to plug “a huge hole” in deteriorating infrastructure.
Desmond Bannister, minister of works, told Tribune Business that sustained investment and capacity building were required to enable his ministry to focus on more than one to two large projects annually after Hurricane Dorian further exacerbated the “deplorable condition” of many key Bahamian physical infrastructure assets.
“Every island I look at, there are major works,” he said of 2020. “I’m thinking of which island does not have these major challenges. The infrastructure has really been left in a condition that is deplorable. We’ve made a start, and need to continue focusing on them.
“In Long Island, Exuma, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and, to some extent, in New Providence the major challenge is the condition of the roads. All those islands we’re looking at what we can do with respect to the roadworks.
“Every single one of those islands, including a number of areas in New Providence, require an investment of $5m-$6m in roads. There are very few countries where you find this challenge. It will be $5m-$6m in Eleuthera, $5m-$6m in Eleuthera, and New Providence will probably be twice that.
“Long Island is a huge problem, and I didn’t even mention south Andros. The road infrastructure has to be replaced on all these islands. I estimate that we will need just to get through this year $40m on roads.”
Asked whether the Ministry of Works has the necessary financing in its budget to proceed with such extensive upgrades, Mr Bannister replied: “We’re going to ask [the Ministry of] Finance to ensure we have the requisite funding to move ahead.... Pray we get the money.”
New Providence residents and motorists have been increasingly complaining about the condition of the island’s roads in recent months, identifying problem areas such as the Village Road/Shirley Street junction that need urgent attention to prevent accidents and damage to vehicles. There are numerous locations such as that where the utility companies appear to have dug up the roads and failed to properly resurface them.
“There’s a huge hole that we have to fill,” Mr Bannister told Tribune Business of The Bahamas’ infrastructure challenges. “We just have to keep plugging away. Every day when I look and see the amount of work that they [Ministry of Works staff] do I’m just completely dumbfounded because they do so much.
“It’s continuing to build-up. We have to start looking ahead at the type of capacity building that allows us to move ahead and focus on any number of large projects as opposed to one or two every year.”
Mr Bannister added that the 23 architects, engineers and draftsmen recruited by the Ministry of Works in 2019 represented its largest-ever annual intake of professionals, and he said: “The good thing is that they have been young Bahamians attracted to the ministry for the first time... Many of them have been groomed and are taking on large projects from the outset.”
The Ministry of Works is now focusing on recruiting architects and engineers to head-up its operations on islands other than New Providence, having already hired an American and Canadian engineer, respectively, to lead it on Eleuthera and Abaco.
Meanwhile, identifying other infrastructure priorities, Mr Bannister said the rebuilding of the Little Abaco Bridge that provides the link with Great Abaco is “moving ahead” following its destruction in Hurricane Dorian.
Government documents seen by Tribune Business peg total Dorian-related damages to roads, bridges, airports and seaports at $51m, with a further $10.6m worth of destruction inflicted on public buildings. Out of this $61.6m, four bridge and seawall projects alone are estimated at $32.71m, of which the Little Abaco Bridge accounts for $6m.
“The Little Abaco Causeway was built in the 1960s to connect Little Abaco Island to Great Abaco Island. Construction of the causeway effectively cut off the migration route for marine life to the south side of the islands, which has shallow waters and vast mangroves ideal for spawning. Additionally, it prevented access to small boat traffic through the underlying channel,” one report said.
“In 2016, a culvert system was constructed to allow for the water flow under the road. During the passage of Hurricane Dorian, the culvert structure suffered severe damage from storm surge. Consequently, it has been recommended that a bridge be constructed to replace the causeway.”
Other projects identified include a $1.21m overhaul for Fishing Hold Road Bridge on Grand Bahama; the $24m repair and construction of new seawalls on Grand Bahama; and $1.5m worth of repairs and upgrades to Marsh Harbour’s Bayshore Road including the construction of a new seawall.
Mr Bannister told this newspaper that Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) would likely need to “double” its solar street lights in place in Marsh Harbour from the current 50 to around 100, with the restoration of the town’s infrastructure expected to take “a good part of the year”.
“We’ve got our hands full for the year,” he said. “Dorian just increased the challenges we have. We have good people who have already started moving on, getting projects scoped and getting them moving ahead.”
Mr Bannister identified the Supreme Court buildings in New Providence and Grand Bahama, Grand Bahama’s Post Office, and the three Andros bridges at Staniard Creek, Stafford Creek and Fresh Creek as among the priority projects for the current year.