transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
The Swing Bridge, over the mouth of Haulover Creek in Belize City, is an icon of the country. The back of Belize’s $50 bill even features the small span. It was constructed in Liverpool, opened in 1923, and is the only bridge in the world that still regularly rotates open from a central base. Every morning and evening, workers manually swing it open using rods inserted to the underlying circular track so that taller boats can pass up and down the Creek. The salty air has caused some corrosion, and because it was designed so long ago, today’s heavy buses and trucks are not allowed to cross it.
Since Belize City only has three bridges over Haulover Creek (the other two are the Belcan and the Belchina), unexpected problems on any one of the bridges can cause significant traffic congestion to propagate throughout the city. An article in the Amandala newspaper describes the delays from recent unannounced construction:
The closure of the Belcan caused a traffic bottleneck on Cemetery Road, as this is the main artery used by drivers wanting to get to the Northside via the other two City bridges…It has been quite a while since anyone has seen the Belcan Bridge swing – one Belize City Council worker told us it has not happened since the last hurricane threat. Today, the bridge was closed at roughly 9:00 AM and scheduled to remain closed until about 11:00 AM as a hired crane was deployed to lift out massively corroded metal from the turntable and to lower replacement parts into the manhole…Asked why the Ministry of Works team chose a Monday morning to undertake the works, the government official on the site told us that they had to wait until the crane was available to them. The Ministry of Works, he told us, does not own one. We observed that the crane being manned by a Mennonite man was labeled National Crane Service.
I wanted to see a traffic jam resulting from the opening of the Swing Bridge, so one evening I walked around the area from 5:00 to 5:30, when my guidebook said the event would occur. I then sat down with an ice cream cone on King Street waiting, but the bridge did not open. Disappointed, I returned to my hostel before most of the shops closed and the streets emptied.
The next morning, I rode the Lake Independence bus. Downtown, it starts and ends its circular route at the Sarteneja bus stop, at the south end of the Swing Bridge. As I got off the bus at the end of its run, the driver and I started talking about my project and buses in Belize. When I finally walked out the front door, I realized it had been blocking traffic, and there were now cars backed up along the Swing Bridge and down Regent Street. I ended up seeing the Swing Bridge traffic jam that I wanted to.