by Gemma Handy
Little Creek Bridge may be finally open to traffic again but the country’s long-suffering motorists will likely have to wait several more weeks before Crabbe Hill Road is restored to two lanes.
On Monday, Little Creek Bridge in Valley Road – which links the densely populated south-west of Antigua to St John’s – was back in use, 13 months after torrential rains which flooded swathes of the island left it badly damaged.
Drivers were restricted to a bumpy bypass for almost a year with the government coming under fire for the slow pace of repairs.
Yesterday, Works Minister Lennox Weston thanked residents for their patience.
“We were very mindful of the location, and the discomfort caused for people. We are happy that we could reopen it for Christmas,” he told Observer, adding that the bridge is one of the first in the country built to new climate change resilient specifications.
The November 2020 downpours caused widespread destruction to highway infrastructure across Antigua and left government with a bill topping EC$160 million.
As contractors battle on with the national road rehabilitation programme, which has seen the welcome transformation of a number of major arteries, crumbling infrastructure in other areas threatens to thwart their efforts.
In September, the aging seawall which protects the coastal road at Crabbe Hill was breached causing a large fissure in the highway. For weeks, motorists rounding the bend were at risk of colliding with oncoming traffic with no reliable way of seeing approaching vehicles.
Earlier this month the road deteriorated further still, which saw it closed for three days and a warning issued to heavy vehicles to avoid the stretch altogether.
Temporary traffic lights have since been installed to keep road users safer. One resident who drives through Crabbe Hill daily to get to work in English Harbour told Observer it was a relief to have the lights in place.
“I used to get so anxious driving up there before. It’s a blind bend you’re entering into, on the wrong side of the road. It was so dangerous,” she said.
Road repairs finally began on December 6 and were initially estimated to last for at least three weeks.
On Tuesday, Minister Weston told Observer it would be another “four to six weeks” before the dual lanes are back.
Replacing the 30-year-old seawall will be a feat all of its own, with the minister warning of the complicated process ahead.
“Eventually we are going to have to rebuild the seawall but nowadays you can’t just rebuild a seawall. The amount of studies to do before you can even touch one is amazing, so we have got to bring in all the specialists to do those before we can replace it,” he explained.
A temporary stone wall is being built in the meantime with the eventual replacement tipped to cost EC$5-8 million.
Residents in the south can however look forward to a forthcoming “brand new highway” from St John’s to Darkwood. Paving of Valley Road is set to start by next spring and be completed by the end of 2022.
“Not only will residents have Little Creek Bridge, they will also have a brand new Darkwood bridge and a brand new highway all the way to the south,” Weston said.
Contractors are currently completing repairs to Sir Sydney Walling Highway before moving south.
“I just want to thank people for their patience and ask them to stay with us as we modernise the roads,” the minister added.
The national road rehabilitation programme kicked off in 2017 to rejuvenate Antigua’s long bemoaned highways, peppered with potholes and patch-ups.
The first phase was made possible via a grant equating to almost US$20 million from the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF). That paid for an overhaul to 8.7km of principle arteries – Sir George Walter Highway and Friars Hill Road – said to be used daily by 75 percent of the population.
The second phase of the project was financed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) with more than 13km of roads currently being revamped. Those works were previously estimated to cost US$65.6 million – with US$45.9 million made available via the CDB loan and the remainder put forward by the government.
Minister Weston said other repairs would include a new road by the Sandals Grande Antigua resort in Dickenson Bay.
“We will also be doing Old Parham Road, and Cedar Grove to Jabberwock,” he said.
“Antigua and Barbuda will no longer have to be satisfied with substandard highways. We will continue the upgrades so we can all live in a modern, 21st century country where infrastructure is of an international standard.”