The Demerara Harbour Bridge spans the Demerara River about three miles south of the Guyanese capital of Georgetown. At the time of its construction, it was the longest floating bridge in the world.
The bridge was commissioned on July 2, 1978. With the majority of Guyana’s population living in or around Georgetown, the bridge was a vital transportation link across the Demerara River, connecting the main part of the capital with West Bank Demerara.
The bridge was funded by the British Government and was designed, manufactured, and erected by Thos Storey, a bridge construction company established in Stockport, England, in the 1930s. The bridge has 61 spans, with the whole thing kept afloat by 114 pontoons.
At its high span, it has a vertical clearance of 26 feet (7.9 meters) and a horizontal clearance of 105 feet (32 meters), allowing small craft to pass at all times. To allow larger craft to pass, including bulk ore carriers, the bridge has a retractor span that retracts fully, leaving a horizontal clearance of 254 feet (77.4 meters).
The bridge’s most impressive statistic is its length. Stretching for 6,074 feet (1,851 meters), it currently ranks as the fourth-longest floating bridge in the world. The top spot is currently held by the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge that carries Washington State Route 520 across Lake Washington from Seattle to its eastern suburbs.
When it was built, the Demerara Harbour Bridge was only designed to last 10 years. Despite that seemingly meager lifespan, the bridge is still going strong. On average, about 14,000 vehicles pass over it each day.
The future of the bridge, however, is uncertain. Since 2015, plans have been afoot to build a new bridge over the Demerara River. In 2017, it was officially announced that a new bridge will be built a mile or so north of the existing bridge, with a completion date of 2020. At the time, a feasibility study declared that the existing bridge “has long passed its technical lifetime.”
The end could be nigh for the Demerara Harbour Bridge, unless some vocal supporters get their way. In July 2018, Minister of State Joseph Harmon argued that there was no reason to demolish the existing structure, saying “I see absolutely no sensible reason to decommission one, where you have another one. I will lend my voice to that chorus which says that we should keep both bridges.” He also called the bridge a “tangible heritage” to all Guyanese.