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Being an island nation, the Bahamas has had to develop an extensive network of domestic maritime and air links in order to keep the economy moving. These links are particularly important for the tourism industry, which represents around 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) and is a mainstay for many of the island communities.
Much of the Bahamas maritime trade goes through Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. It has one of the region's largest container handling facilities and extensive bulk cargo loading and unloading services.
The Freeport Container Port, operated by Hutchinson Port Holding, is currently undergoing a major expansion, as part of a $300m project that aims to double its cargo handling capacity, currently standing at 1.5m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).
Nassau is one of the main ports of call for the Caribbean cruise trade, but the harbour has become congested due to the increasing activity at the cargo handling facilities located close to the tourist terminals. There are long standing plans to relocate the existing container port, a move that would both free up waterfront space in downtown Nassau and allow the area to be redeveloped and made more appealing to visitors.
When in office, the government of then Prime Minister Perry Christie planned to relocate the port on the south west of New Providence. However, following the election of the Free National Movement under Hubert Ingraham in May 2007, this scheme was scrapped. The present government favours a less expensive proposal to locate the container terminal on Arawak Cay. Though not fully budgeted, the government estimates the move would cost somewhere between $50 and $80m, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette was reported as saying.
The other key link in the Bahamas' transport system is its extensive network of airports. As is the case with port, almost all of the inhabited islands have an airport, with 22 such facilities of varying standards spread across the country. Of these, the privately operated Freeport International Airport and the state-run Lynden Pindling International Airport, formerly known as the Nassau International Airport, handle the bulk of arrivals.
Like many of the country's main ports, the Lynden Pindling International Airport is also scheduled for a major upgrade. At the end of November, Prime Minister Ingraham announced work would begin in the second quarter of this year on new terminal buildings, baggage handling facilities and ancillary projects.
Announcing the $175m upgrade, which had been on the drawing boards for some years, the prime minister said the project could create up to 400 jobs during the construction phase and provide further employment for locals once completed.
Most of the smaller airports cater to inter-island traffic, both domestic and charter, though some overseas charter lines do fly directly to destinations across the archipelago.
The Bahamas is also served by an extensive land transport grid, having some 3500 kilometres of roads, and with no rail network, all land-based passenger and cargo hauling is carried out by road.
As part of its programme to stimulate the economy and ease some of the effects of the global economic crisis, Ingraham's government has stepped up the delivery of transport infrastructure projects.
In an address to the nation on January 29, the prime minister said that work to improve the country's roads, ports and airports was essential in order to attract further investments and promote development.
The single biggest ticket item in the transport infrastructure programme is the $130m New Providence Road Enhancement Project, in part funded by a $100m loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.
In late December, the government signed a contract with Argentinean firm Jose Cartellone Construccciones Civiles to carry out the project, including the construction of some 15 kilometres of new roads and the upgrading of a further 23 kilometres.
While many of the transport infrastructure projects will help ease unemployment and inject money into the economy at a time of downturn, all have been on the drawing board for some time. They may have immediate benefits as the economy slows, but when completed, these projects will continue underpin growth as the global recession retreats.