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By Vasemaca Rarabici

Special to Pacific Islands Report

SUVA, Fiji (Pacific Islands Report, April 26) – The construction of the FJ$30million (US$18.1 million) Rewa Bridge is five months behind schedule and could cost the Fiji government more than it bargained for.

But Fiji road officials say the four-lane bridge –to be completed next year - will greatly improve traffic across the Rewa River when it replaces the two-lane bridge that has served motorists since 1937.

The 425-meter bridge, near Nausori Airport, will span the Rewa River – the biggest river in Fiji and a major obstacle between the airport and Suva, the country’s capitol.

Fiji Roads Director Mosese Nailumu said heavy rain during the past two weeks in Fiji’s Central division has delayed the project and could add to the cost of the project.

"It’s hard to determine yet as to how much more the delay will cost government until the bridge opens," Nailumu said. "Because of the weather, the construction of the bridge is already behind schedule, which means it won’t open until the middle of next year, about five month behind."

The project is jointly funded by the European Union, which contributed FJ$24million (US$14.5 million), and the Fiji government, which put in $6 million(US$3.6 million).

Despite the delay, the Ministry for Public Works remains optimistic about the new four-lane bridge.

Fletcher Construction Ltd. started work on the bridge in October 2003, soon after negotiations with the Nausori landowners.

The village sits at the bank of the Rewa River and the expansion of the road at the Nausori end of the bridge will see the relocation of nine homes.

The families, whose homes will be demolished, will share FJ$300,000 (US$181,000) as compensation, Nailumu said.

He said the Methodist Church would also receive FJ$300,000 for the acquisition of its land and FJ$130,000 for the relocation of Lelean Memorial School's historical Derrick workshop in Davuilevu.

Work on the new bridge was initially expected to be completed by the end of this year.. However, this has been extended to the middle of next year because of the delay.

The bridge is expected to have a life span of 100 years, said Peter Watts, Managing Director of Fletcher Construction.

The Rewa River has provided a challenge for the placement of bridges support beams, but engineers found a way around it without compromising safety, Watts said.

Watts said that building materials for the project have been brought in from Europe and other parts of the world. At the start for the construction, a delay was experienced in obtaining steel from Europe. A condition attached to the EU grant was that steel be sourced from Europe.

The company has already started work on the two approach roads on either end of the new bridge doing the Suva end first.

Permanent Secretary for Works Anasa Vocea said the old bridge is past its lifespan and could collapse in 10 to 15 years.

He said the bridge is overtaxed, with corrosion settling-in, causing major parts to rust.

Several times last year, heavy vehicles were not allowed to travel on the bridge and commuters were forced to walk across the bridge and back, after supporting beams began cracking.

Workers replaced more than 80 bridge joints so that it could last until next year, Vocea said.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said the new bridge would stimulate the economy and ease traffic problems faced by those living in the area.

He said queues on the Rewa Bridge will soon be a thing of the past and the new bridge would be the "greatest period of progress in Nausori's history."

"Very soon, strong foundations, steel girders and new traffic lanes will cross this stretch of water," he said. "They will unlock Nausori's potential for expansion and investment, more urban jobs and better incomes for the area's farmers and fishermen."

The new bridge will have four lanes for vehicle traffic and walkways for pedestrians on either side.

The Prime Minister said this move would stimulate more business in the town and assist dairy farmers from surrounding provinces.

"There will be more commercial lots, a new sporting and recreational complex and residential development," he said. "Nausori is on the move, just like the rest of Fiji as a whole. We are putting 2000 (the Fiji coup) behind us, and giving our country a fresh start."

Qarase said economic activity would pick up further when the construction of Kings Road is completed in 2006.

"Transport and travel through Nausori and its region will generally be easier and faster," he said.

He also announced that plans are underway to start a new terminal building, parking area and extended runway to accommodate bigger aircraft at Nausori Airport.

"Completion of the major bridge will allow Nausori to more efficiently play its role as a gateway to Suva and Nasinu," Mr Qarase said. "That role will increase dramatically when Fiji's second international airport is substantially upgraded."

Watts said the new bridge will have roundabouts and associated road improvements on either side.

He said the Rewa bridge links Suva with the river town of Nausori, the Western Division via Kings Road and the Levuka ferry link.

When the new bridge opens next year, Nailumu said the old bridge would be closed to traffic but open to pedestrians use.

Meanwhile, Navuso landowners in Naitasiri are claiming FJ$20million in damages for the destruction of natural resources in the Rewa River with the construction of the new bridge. The chairman of the village committee on land, Ratu Loco Qiolevu says, villagers rely on fresh water mussels and fish for their daily food and income.

According to Ratu Loco, they are the rightful owners of the fishing ground in the Rewa River and the government should compensate them as owner of the resources.

Ratu Loco says he has raised the issue with the government but has not received any reply.

The Environment Ministry has asked for the Environment Impact Assessment Report on the Rewa River and its banks from the Public Works Department in order to properly assess the concerns of the Navuso landowners.

April 26, 2005

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