Public access for disabled a priority, says minister


Tribune Business Reporter


Public buildings are being refitted with wheelchair ramps to make them more accessible to disabled members of the public, Minister of Works and Utilities Alfred Sears revealed yesterday.

Speaking at the International Road Federation (IRF) Caribbean Regional Congress, Mr Sears provided an update on the status of infrastructure upgrades and repairs.

In addition to wheelchair access to public buildings, sidewalks will be redone to include access ramps and the new Parliament building will include a lift so all Bahamians can access the building. He added that the contractors for the Village road project will ensure that proper sidewalks are constructed.

He said: “The Bahamas has a Disability Act. However, most of the public infrastructure is very old. So we have been engaged in the process of retrofitting, that is, installing ramps in public buildings.”

“We also have a small contractors programme where we’re moving systematically, certainly within New Providence, to redo sidewalks so that we install ramps on the sidewalk. And we would have applied that also in the most recent project that we’re about to complete on Village Road, where we’ve removed all of the sidewalks, because some of them had cracks and so on in them and we have added to the contractor’s work to install new sidewalks that would be safe for all users as well as proper ramps.

“The government has also made a commitment to build a new Parliament because as you know, now Parliament, we have no lift at the Parliament and it sits on the second floor of the House of Assembly. This is one of the priority areas of government, we will engage team of designers, they have travelled throughout our region and other regions looking at national parliaments. And we will be moving very aggressively to build a new Parliament that reflects that, is in compliance with the Disability Act, and really reflects the aspiration of the Bahamian people.”

Mr Sears said Gladstone Road will include a bicycle lane, street lights will be changed to LED and that the ministry has invested in more prominent signage.

He said: “We have started a major programme for the redevelopment of existing roads and also designing new roads. On the Gladstone Road development project, in addition to dual carriageway sidewalks, we’re also putting in place road for bicycles, and better facilitation to encourage walking, as well as bicycling so that the road becomes much more multi-purpose rather than vehicle but for the safe use of pedestrian and also introducing bicycle lane in terms of improving lifestyle.”

“In terms of the lighting we also have made a major commitment with the Caribbean development bank to change the lighting from the sodium lights to LED lights, which puts more emphasis on sustainability. And of course, a major focus now is we have invested substantially in the machines that are producing better signage so that we have signage more prominent, and also cat eyes along the road to improve safety, especially in the night.”

Asked by panel moderators what keeps him awake at night, he said the vulnerable infrastructure on the Family Islands, adding that obtaining equipment and staff in these locations presents a challenge and the ministry is turning utilising private contractors to maintain these areas.

He said: “What keeps me up at night is the old road infrastructure, vulnerable infrastructure, roads that are along the coast in our different family islands. And of course, with rain and significant weather events, you have potholes, the potholes really increase the danger and make the road not as safe as it was intended to be.

“Also lighting, signage. And so clearly putting in place a robust maintenance infrastructure. And that involves resources, we have to get equipment, we have to maintain a certain level of staff. And increasingly, we rely on contractors, private contractors to maintain different zones.”

Mr Sears said ensuring our infrastructure is constructed sustainably and flood management are also areas that concern him. He said new bridges are being constructed to ensure the free flow of water and that a 600ft well will be constructed in Pinewood Gardens to alleviate concerns. He maintained obtaining funding to build resilient and sustainable infrastructure is critical to our survival and safety.

He said: “The second concern is the critical need for innovation. So as we maintain our roads and our bridges… the 40 that we maintain, we’re building new bridges, we’re replacing existing bridges. And we’re not building bridges in the water, the base of the bridge, we’ve tried to put it on land, so that there could be navigation under the bridge. And unlike in the past, it can allow the free flow of marine life under the bridge.

“So building in a manner to ensure sustainability and resilience and of course getting the money to do it because of the urgency that it has to be done in order to ensure survival and safety.”

“The third aspect is flood mitigation on a very flat island where we have the construction in eco-sensitive areas with heavy rain and certainly hurricanes it floods very quickly. So we’ve put a very major focus on flood mitigation on our roadway, better installation of swales, wells... we are introducing some deeper wells, in an area where historically we’ve had flooding, we are piloting a 600ft well, in the Pinewood Gardens area.”

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