Mission Impossible accomplished | The Daily Star
Mizanur Rahman halted, gazing in wonder from the bank of the Padma River at the specialized floating crane securing the last span of the mega-structure yesterday.
As the 150 meter span was finally placed on pillars 12 and 13 at the Mawa end, he was thrilled and delighted to see the complete structure of the Padma Bridge.
“Look, here is our dream bridge standing. What a great feat of engineering it is!” Mizanur marveled, pointing to the 6.15 km bridge that became fully visible for the first time.
The Padma Bridge is no longer a dream; it is now a reality. The mega bridge is expected to be a huge boon for the underdeveloped region of southern and southwestern Bangladesh.
But decades ago, it was more of a daring dream, a tall order to tame the tumultuous river. Crossing the mighty Padma has always been arduous and sometimes dangerous due to unreliable and limited ferry connections and long waits for crowded boats and launches.
“I still remember it took me about three hours to cross the river on a roll-off ferry when I first arrived in Dhaka in 1998. Twenty-two years later, it still takes the same time now.” , said Mizanur, a private employee from Madaripur.
“But once the Padma Bridge is open to the public, we can go home in a few hours and come back to Dhaka the same day. Our journey time will be drastically reduced.”
The two-tier steel truss composite bridge – the upper bridge accommodating a four-lane motorway for vehicles and the lower bridge for a set of rail tracks – is the culmination of years of effort and achievement. impressive engineering.
Authorities plan to open it to the public in the first half of 2022.
The bridge that connects Dhaka with 21 districts in the south is a potential catalyst for a major economic change in the lives of more than 30 million people living in the region and will provide a major boost to trade and economic activities.
The Tk 30 193 crore bridge will connect multi-lane highways and railway lines with Dhaka to Mongla port and the largest deep-water port at Payra.
It will be one of the main transport corridors connecting Bangladesh with India, Nepal and Bhutan, in addition to strengthening regional trade and collaboration along the Asia Highway and Trans-Asian Railway network. .
MAKE A DREAM COME TRUE
A bridge over the mighty Padma had been in talks since the mid-1990s. The idea gained momentum in 1997, when construction of the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna was nearing completion, ushering in new hope and optimism. among the inhabitants of the southwest region.
The Padma Bridge pre-feasibility study was carried out in 1998 and 1999. The government then approached the Japanese government for financial and technical assistance for a feasibility study, which was conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. (JICA) between 2003 and 2005.
Following further studies and exploration of financing options, the government approved on August 20, 2007 the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project valued at Tk 10,161 crore, to be constructed with donor assistance. .
On January 11, 2011, the Padma Bridge project was revised and the estimated cost was increased to Tk 20,507 crore, mainly to incorporate a railway track into the bridge.
The government entered into loan agreements with four development partners in early 2011 and a $ 1.2 billion agreement was signed with the World Bank on April 28, 2011.
But the $ 1 billion project became uncertain in September 2011, when major donor WB suspended its $ 1.2 billion pledged loans over corruption plot allegations, which the government denied.
The heckling led to the filing of corruption cases against some project officials and the resignation of the then Minister of Communications, Syed Abul Hossain. However, the WB canceled its funding in June 2012.
Other donors – the Asian Development Bank (ADB), JICA, and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) – also canceled their loan proposals, resulting in the project stalling for some time.
However, the allegations against government officials were later ruled false by the Anti-Corruption Commission and a Dhaka court. A Canadian court also found no evidence of a corrupt conspiracy involving the project.
Then, in July 2012, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the bold decision to go ahead with the implementation of the project with the country’s own funds.
Two Chinese companies – China Major Bridge Engineering Company Ltd and Sinohydro Corporation Limited – were nominated for two major works, bridge building and river training.
In December 2015, Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the main construction works of the country’s most ambitious engineering project, having one of the deepest foundations in the world.
But the project was a huge engineering challenge as the mighty Padma carries a large volume of sediment, making its bed soft and difficult to build. The hardest part was forming and piling up the river due to the strong river currents and erosion.
The second major challenge was to drive the piles that will support the load of road and rail traffic as well as the weight of the bridge to the foundation.
And the situation was further complicated in 2016 when differences appeared between the information obtained by the geotechnical survey during the design phase and that during the construction phase of the bridge piles.
The project manager had to modify the design of the 22 piers of the bridge, which resulted in a further delay. The first span was installed in September 2017.
At that time, project costs had reached over Tk 30,000 crore.
As the project progressed smoothly, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the shores of Bangladesh. Still, work continued, albeit slowly due to a shortage of workers – Chinese and local – and an insufficient supply of building materials.
The project accelerated after the end of the two-month closure induced by Covid-19 and the return of Chinese nationals. Then, again, the strong currents in the Padma began to cause problems, but the work picked up again.
The installation of the carriageway deck and the railway spars is in progress. Of the 2,917 pavement slabs, 1,333 were installed yesterday while 1,942 of the 2,959 railroad slabs were installed.
Other work, including the installation of electricity and gas pipes, must be completed before the bridge opens.
However, the railway spars, which entered the Padma due to erosion from a construction site, will have to be brought back from Luxembourg, causing some delay, officials said.
Speaking to reporters on December 7, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said it would take 10 to 12 months to complete other works after the installation of the last span, which was placed yesterday at 12:02.
However, a senior Bridge division official told this newspaper last month: “It will take 12 to 14 months to complete all the work. It could be open [for the public] in the first half of 2022. “
But Mizanur is still impatient. “I look forward to the opening of the Dream Bridge.”