By: S. Micah Yeahwon, from Western Liberia
The prolonged closure of Lofa Bridge to the free movement of goods and services in Western Liberia has claimed the attention of the residents, who think the situation has created hardships for them.
Subsequently, youth in the area have reportedly threatened to protest, demanding contractors repairing the bridge to fast track the project.
The Lofa River is one of Liberia’s six major rivers, and forms the boundary between Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount counties in Western Liberia.
The bridge over the river is currently undergoing a major rehabilitation work under the supervision of SSF Engineering Construction Company.
Philip Barfour, the company’s lead engineer, said the rehabilitation work began early May and is expected to be completed in three months.
But residents consider the three-month interval too long, since it will come at the peak of the rainy season, exacerbating hardships that arise during that time of the year.
Mr. Barfour told the Daily Observer that the reconstruction work will include removing all the ‘spoiled planks and wood’ that were originally nailed to guard some of the iron under the bridge and replacing them with new guard iron plate sheets that will be cemented to withstand the weight of any moving object over the bridge.
Barfour puts the cost of the project over US$300,000, which he said was provided by the Grand Cape Mount County Legislative Caucus through the instrumentality of Senator Edward Dagozeh.
While the repair work is ongoing, the bridge is currently closed to the public and all vehicles using that route. This means that travelers and vehicles will have to go through Sinje before connecting to Gola Konneh District in Grand Cape Mount County, instead of passing through Gbarpolu County, the shortest route to Grand Cape Mount County.
This closure has, however, brought up contentions and mixed feelings between the residents of Vaye Town, Gbarpolu County and those in the Lofa Bridge Town on one side, and the SSF Construction Firm.
The citizens said they have been left out of the decision to close the bridge to the public, something they feel is bringing economic hardships to them.
For those in Vaye Town and Lofa Bridge Town, the bridge serves as a trade link to other counties and as a major source of economic activities for them.
Paul D. Cooper, a classroom teacher assigned at the Woamawo High School, one of the three secondary schools in Gbarpolu County, said the reconstruction of the bridge is welcome news, but said it would have been appropriate were the two parties to have convened a joint meeting before closing the bridge to the public.
Mr. Cooper is also the spokesperson for the youth in the area.
He also said that SSF Construction Firm should have created a detour to allow people to continue with their normal business activities.
“This access road would have helped the students and other commuters to continue their respective activities, especially for the students who are scheduled to sit the upcoming exams to be administered by the West African Examination Council (WAEC),” he said.
Cooper added that if nothing is done by the SSF and the Grand Cape Mount authorities, the citizens, especially the youth in Vaye Town, have planned to organize a ‘peaceful protest’ against the company’s decision to close the bridge to the public.