Under very hot and sunny conditions, the Rio Grande Bridge in Portland was opened on Thursday, October 11, 2012.
Construction of the bridge was made necessary consequent on the destruction of the previous in July, 2005 by Hurricane Dennis. Its destruction left residents on both sides of the bridge stranded. Later that year, in October 2005, the Government of Jamaica signed a contract with the European Commission to finance the construction and rehabilitation of Segment three of the North Coast Highway Improvement Project (NCHIP) which includes the corridor where the Rio Grande Bridge is located. The re-construction of the bridge was however not included in this Project at the time. In 2007, though, designs were completed for supply of the structural steel beams and were delivered to Jamaica under the Priority Bridge Programme. In October, 2010, a contract in the amount of US$23.8M was awarded to CHEC; it was funded by GOJ and implemented under the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).
Speaking at the Opening Ceremony, Minister of Transport, Works & Housing, Dr. Omar Davies said the bridge was a symbolism of ‘linkages’. He said that in the same way that the bridge linked various areas in Portland and its environs, it is the same way that the building of the bridge formed lasting linkages between Jamaica and China, the country of the contractors. In this respect, the Minister hailed the exemplary work China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has been doing in Jamaica.
In speaking to the work of contractors, the Minister noted that the landscape has changed dramatically and that contractors, particularly those in Jamaica need to change their modus operandi so that bringing in ‘work on time and under budget’ will become the norm. “Jamaican contractors have to compete with the rest of the world,’ he noted.
The Minister used the opportunity to enlist the buy-in of the private sector in getting involved in areas once seen as the preserve of government. He cited the examples of Sangster International Airport and the Toll Roads where private sector interests have become involved. He also gave the commitment that feasibility studies would be done in short order concerning the building of the very important road corridor linking the parishes of St. Thomas, Portland, St. Mary and Kingston.
For his part, MP for West Portland, Daryl Vaz said he was extremely happy that attention was now being turned to that area of the island. He said with the investment in the Rio Grande Bridge and other initiatives in Portland, it was now time for the private sector to add their input and assist in the development of the area.
His opposite number, Lynvale Bloomfield who is MP for Eastern Portland outlined the disrepair of a number of other bridges in the parish and in that context, was very pleased for the attention that was paid to the Rio Grande Bridge. He said that the new bridge would assist in the agricultural and tourism efforts in the parish.
Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica HE Zhen Qingdian congratulated all concerned with the successful completion of the structure. He hailed the work of CHEC in the community separate and apart from the work they undertook on the Bridge. He said that their work in the island has helped to cement the bonds and friendship between China and Jamaica.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mrs. Audrey Sewell charged the residents to take care of the bridge as too often she said, focus is placed on the construction of structures but not on their maintenance. She encouraged to become a part of the development in their surroundings even as she also asked motorists to use the bridge and the roadway with due care.
Other persons who spoke at the ceremony included Mr. Zhongdong Tang, Regional Manager of CHEC, Father Sedley Gooden who blessed the proceedings and Hon. Richard Azan who gave the vote of thanks. The Port Antonio Theatre Group and Mrs. Claudeth Brown entertained the audience with cultural items.