Bangladesh: Padma Bridge Completion Pushed Back Another Year

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2021-03-10
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Bangladesh: Padma Bridge Completion Pushed Back Another Year A crane installs the last span of the Padma Bridge in the Munshiganj district of Bangladesh, Dec. 10, 2020.
BenarNews

The roadway portion of the massive China-backed Padma Bridge, which links Dhaka with southern Bangladesh, has been delayed another year because of coronavirus-linked labor shortages and will not open until June 2023, Bangladesh government officials said Wednesday.

The delay is the latest for the 6-km (3.7-mile) dual-purpose span – Bangladesh’s largest-ever infrastructure project, which began in 2015. After crews placed the final span on the vehicular section of the double-decker bridge in December, officials said that portion was expected to open next year, followed by the rail portion in 2024.

“We had a plan that the prime minister would open the bridge for traffic in June 2022 and had hoped the road portion would be fully complete,” said Mohammed Belayet Hossain, secretary for the Bridges division under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges. “But we need one more year before its inauguration.

“Eighty percent of the road component of the Padma Bridge has been complete, although the coronavirus pandemic slowed progress,” he told BenarNews.

The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to open the 1.9-km (1.2-mile) Friendship Bridge connecting the two countries.

Belayet said the extra year was needed for the Padma Bridge to examine it for potential flaws in construction before opening it to traffic, noting that the extra year would not add to the cost of the project.

The bridge’s road section, which cost 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 is to provide four lanes for road traffic on the top deck and a broad-gauge single railway track on the bottom deck.

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

Political considerations

There could be more than one reason to delay opening the Padma Bridge, according to a political science and public administration professor at Chittagong University.

“The government has two considerations for the one year time extension for the Padma bridge –one technical and the other political,” Nizam Uddin Ahmed told BenarNews.

He noted that testing for construction issues is necessary.

“The political consideration is more important. Our next general elections are set to take place either in late 2023 or early 2024. Keeping the elections in mind, the government could have thought of shifting the inauguration to June 2023,” he said.

“The Padma Bridge is sure to bring about qualitative changes to millions of people’s lives in the South and Southwestern parts. So opening the bridge six months before an election could positively mold the people’s support for the Awami League, and I do not see anything wrong with it,” he said, referring to the country’s ruling party.

Ahmed noted that if the bridge were to open next year, people would forget about how it has improved their lives.

“Currently the Awami League is pursuing the politics of development. So the ruling party wants to use the Padma Bridge construction in the upcoming elections,” he said.

China Railway Engineering Corp. (CREC) was contracted to build the rail link, which has been beset by delays since the project began in January 2016. It was scheduled to be finished in June 2022, but saw a two-year extension in January 2020.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 led to additional delays in 2020 as many Chinese engineers and employees who had gone home on visits were stuck there because of travel restrictions, officials said.

In August 2020, bridge project director Shafiqul Islam flagged concerns about CREC reducing the height and width of 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.

“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 in December 2020.

210310-BD-CH-IN-bridge-inside.jpg
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi (front left) waves with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after his arrival at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, June 6, 2015. (Reuters)

Friendship Bridge

Built by India – China’s regional rival – at a cost of 1.33 billion rupees ($18 million), the Friendship Bridge will give seven landlocked northeastern Indian states easy access to the Bangladesh port of Chittagong and to Southeast Asia, officials said.

“We expect that the framework we are inaugurating today will also help Bangladesh trade more easily not only with India, but with Nepal and Bhutan as well,” Hasina said at Tuesday’s dedication.

“We are creating a new era in South Asia through providing connectivity to India. We are in a region which has remained conservative in opening up and where inter-regional trade is far below its potential,” she said, adding, “We hope it will also contribute to improving the livelihoods of those residing on the Bangladesh side of the bridge.”

Modi noted that the entire region was being developed as trade corridor for the two nations.

“The prime minister emphasized that the rail and water connectivity projects that have been realized in the recent years have been strengthened by this bridge,” according to a statement released by Modi’s office.

The executive director of a private think-tank in Bangladesh said the Friendship Bridge would enhance trade between the neighboring nations.

“The bridge will allow the landlocked seven northeastern states to carry their goods unloaded at the Chittagong port. So, the importance and revenue of the port would increase,” Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, told BenarNews.

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