Bangladesh Installs Last Span of Ambitious, Chinese-Backed Bridge Project

Jesmin Papri
Dhaka
2020-12-10
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Bangladesh Installs Last Span of Ambitious, Chinese-Backed Bridge Project A crane installs the last 150-meter span on the roadway section of the Padma Bridge project in Munshiganj, district, Bangladesh, Dec. 10, 2020.
[Focus Bangla]

Construction of the Padma Bridge – Bangladesh’s largest-ever infrastructure endeavor, which started in 2014 – reached a milestone toward completion Thursday as workers installed the 41st and last span on the roadway section of the China-backed, 6-km-long project.   

Large crowds thronged as close as they could to the banks of the wide Padma River to witness a crane installing the bridge’s last 150-meter span. The vehicular and railway portions of the double-decker bridge are slated to be finished in 2022 and 2024, respectively, officials said.

Once completed, the bridge that connects Munshiganj district to Shariatpur and Madaripur districts is expected to reduce travel time sharply between the capital Dhaka and southern and southwestern Bangladesh.

“At 12:02 Thursday, the 41st and the last span was installed to complete the physical structure of the Padma Bridge. The bridge has connected the two sides of the Padma River,” Dewan Muhammad Abdul Kader, an executive engineer working on the project, told BenarNews.

“But the two-level bridge is not yet fit for vehicular movement: we have yet to complete the approach roads and viaducts, set up railway slabs and other necessary physical works,” he said.

The railway portion is now on target for completion in June 2024 after construction ran two years behind schedule.

The bridge will likely be opened for road traffic in a year’s time, said Obaidul Quader, the Minister for Road Transport and Bridges.

By the time the roadway level is completed, “the history of ferrying residents between the 21 districts of southern Bangladesh and the capital Dhaka will end for good,” the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka said in a statement. “The original seven-to-eight hours of crossing the river will be shortened to 10 minutes.”

The bridge’s road section, which costs U.S. $3.87 billion, is being funded by Bangladesh’s government and being built by China Railway Major Bridge Engineering, a state-run company.

The Chinese government agreed to finance 85 percent of the cost of the $4.8 billion rail portion through a loan to Bangladesh.

The bridge would provide four lanes for road traffic on the top deck and a broad-gauge single railway track on the bottom deck.

When fully built, economists forecast, the Padma Bridge could increase Bangladesh’s gross domestic products (GDP) by 1.2 percent, because it will open investment in the south and southwestern regions that host two seaports – Mongla and Payra.

The bridge will also connect Bangladesh’s premier Chittagong seaport directly with the main land port, Benapole, in Jashore district.

“Upon completion of the bridge, movement of people and goods will increase manifold,” Fahmida Khatun, executive director of think-tank Center for Policy Dialogue, told BenarNews.

“The time and cost of transport will come down, contributing to the economy through creation of employment opportunities. The bridge will facilitate industrialization in the southwestern region.”

Delays in rail link

Since Bangladesh attained nationhood in 1971, successive governments had negotiated with various donor agencies to build a bridge over the Padma River.

When the Sheikh Hasina government came to power in 2009, the prime minister sought funds for the bridge’s construction from the World Bank, but the international financial institution turned down her request.

The government then decided to build and fund the 6.15-km (3.82-mile) road bridge on its own. For the rail link, the government signed a loan agreement in 2016 with the Export-Import Bank of China.

China Railway Engineering Corporation was contracted to build the rail link, which has been beset by delays since the project began in January 2016. China Railway Major Bridge Engineering is a unit of CREC.

The rail link project was originally scheduled to be finished in June 2022. In January this year, the deadline was extended to June 2024.

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease, which appears to have originated in Wuhan, China, led to additional delays earlier this year, as many Chinese engineers and employees who had gone home on visits were stuck there because of travel restrictions.

Then in August, Shafiqul Islam, project director of the Padma Bridge, flagged concerns about CREC having altered the design of both the road and rail links.

Islam said that CREC had reduced the height and width of both the rail and the road tiers. The bridge was not wide enough to handle the expected volume of traffic and there was not enough distance between the tiers for train traffic, he had said.

That flaw has now been fixed, Islam told BenarNews on Thursday.

“The flaws detected in the rail link project have been corrected. Now, we do not see any problem in executing the whole project,” Islam said.

As of this month, the rail link is still scheduled to be completed in mid-2024.

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