Prime Minister Hasina opens Bangladesh’s longest bridge over Padma River

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
0 comment

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has inaugurated a historic bridge over the turbulent Padma River after years of delays due to corruption allegations that forced the World Bank to walk away from the nearly $4 billion megaproject, which is the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. It will connect with the underdeveloped northwestern region of the country.

Saturday’s opening of the eponymous Padma Bridge – Bangladesh’s longest bridge to date and has been called a “symbol of national pride” – marks a momentous event in the South Asian country’s history.

Construction of the 6.15 km bridge began in November 2015 to connect 21 districts of the country’s southwestern region to Dhaka by road and rail, significantly reducing travel time.

It usually takes 15 to 22 hours to cover a distance of 180-300 km (111-186 miles) between the Northeastern Region and Dhaka districts.

The double-layer steel truss bridge includes a four-lane highway on the upper level and a single-track railway on the lower level.

With a construction cost of $3.87 billion, this is one of the largest megaprojects Bangladesh has ever undertaken, and the Government of Bangladesh finances the entire amount.

In 2012, the World Bank withdrew from a $1.2 billion loan deal for the project following corruption allegations. Following this example, other donors, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), withdrew from the project.

Hasina, who spearheaded the bridge’s efforts, famously stated that her government would fund the project itself.

Her decision was met with skepticism from the country’s economists and political opponents, as Bangladesh had no experience building such a mega-infrastructure without financial support from multilateral donors.

“Some people said we would always be responsible for others, but our father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman taught us the importance of self-respect,” Hasina told a sea of ​​people on Saturday.

Sheikh Rahman was the founder of Bangladesh who led the movement to secede from Pakistan in 1971.

“This Padma Bridge is not a pile of bricks and cement but a symbol of Bangladesh’s pride, honor, and ability,” she said.

“We showed the world that we can do it.”

A technical marvel

Experts call it an “engineering marvel” and say the bridge’s construction is an amazing achievement, as the Padma is the most “treacherous and unpredictable” river after South America’s Amazon River.

China’s state-owned Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group (RMBEG) was tasked with overseeing the bridge’s construction with the help of approximately 1,200 Bangladeshi engineers.

With steel piles driven 122 meters (400 feet) deep into the riverbed, Padma Bridge holds the record for the deepest banks of any bridge in the world.

The bridge’s project director, Shafiqul Islam, told Al Jazeera that the water flowing every 20 seconds at the Mawa point (one end of the bridge) equals the total water used in Dhaka city per day.

“After Amazon, Padma has the world’s strongest current [roughness in water]. So we had to go for the thickest and deepest piling in the world,” he said.

“We showed the world that we can do it,” Prime Minister Hasina told a sea of ​​people on Saturday [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Featuring another unique feature of the bridge, Islam said, modern friction shuttle bearings (FPB) have been used to support the steel superstructure and concrete pier foundation.

“Such bearings have never been used anywhere in the world, and they can withstand a magnitude nine earthquake,” he said, adding that the bridge bearings can carry more than 10,000 tons, exceeding the limit of any other structure in the world.

Islam said the project cost rose nearly three times it’s original estimated $1.2 billion as it faced many technical challenges.

“In addiAlsoevaluation of the Bengali currency, Taka has played an important role in increased costs as more than half of the project expenditure has been paid in foreign currency.”

Why a significant structure?

Located approximately 68 km (42 miles) from Dhaka, the Padma Bridge will act as a gateway to the country’s southwestern region and significantly reduce travel time between Dhaka and major southeastern districts, including Khulna, Jessore, and Barishal.

It will also reduce the distance between Dhaka and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 km (62 miles).

The mighty Padma separates the southwestern region from Dhaka, forcing people to travel by ferries or launches that make slow journeys. Perishable goods transported by truck to Dhaka from the southwestern districts often rot because the long trip can sometimes take 22-24 hours due to the long traffic jam at ferry stations.

According to a study by the government-run Bridge Division, the Padma Bridge will save 187,727 hours of ferry waiting per day for 2,620 vehicles. It is estimated that with the bridge’s opening, approximately 24,000 vehicles will cross the river each day – a significant jump from the current number of 2,620.

The study also noted that the economic impact of the bridge would help increase the Southwestern region’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.5 percent and the country’s total GDP by more than 1.23 percent.

Economist Selim Raihan, who researched the economic impact of the bridge, said its main benefit is that it will connect the southwestern districts – known for fishing and agriculture – with Bangladesh’s economic lifeline – the Dhaka-Chattogram economic corridor.

“Because communication and transportation on the Padma River depended solely on ferries, not much industrialization has taken place in the southwestern districts until now,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The ready-made garment sector – Bangladesh’s most prominent industry and the main export earner – has been completely absent in those districts.”

“I think investors and industrialists will be interested in investing there, leading to tremendous economic growth.”

Related Posts