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Padma bridge nears completion

The deadline of Padma bridge construction is June next year. Carpeting is underway on the bridge for traffic movement, followed by lighting on it. Besides, installment of gas pipeline is progressing. The overall progress of the project is 88.75 per cent while the progress of main bridge construction is 95 per cent.

The feasibility of Padma bridge construction was carried out in 2005. The project was taken up in 2007 at a cost of Tk 101.62 billion (10,162 crore). Work of the main bridge started in 2014 after many complexities with a deadline of four years. But it had not been possible to implement the project in accordance with the deadline. To date, the project cost has increased to Tk 301.93 (30,193 crore). Unpredictability of the river, erosion caused by floods, coronavirus pandemic are to blame for delaying the work. Finally, technically complex work was completed after installing span or steel structure of the bridge in December last year, connecting Munsiganj’s Mawa end and Shariatpur’s Zajira end.

Speaking about the complexities of the project, officials said three world records have been set during construction of the bridge. Steel piles with a 3-metre radius have been installed as deep as 112 metres. No bridge in the world has ever required installing of steel piles with such depth and thickness. The capacity of the friction pendulum bearing for protection from earthquake is 10,000 tonnes. No bridge in the world has such a high capacity of bearing too. The Padma bridge is being built with a capacity to take the impact of a 9-magnitude earthquake. A $1.10 billion contract has been signed with Chinese Sinohydro Corporation for river training. To date, no such a big tender on river training has also been floated.

Director of Padman bridge project Md Shafiqul Islam said they had to overcome many challenges at the beginning of the project. There is no big challenge now. Work is progressing with deadline to open the bridge in June, he added.

According to a survey, the bridge will connect 19 districts of south and south-western region with the entire country and Dhaka. Once the bridge opens, GDP of the country and the south and south-western region will increase by 1.23 and 2.03 per cent respectively.

In 2009, Asian Development Bank (ADB) conducted a detailed survey on how many vehicles may cross the Padma bridge. It shows if the bridge opens at the beginning of 2022, nearly 24,000 vehicles would cross daily in that year. The number of vehicles will increase to 67,000 in 2050.

Officials at the bridge division said a major portion of goods-carrying vehicles would cross the bridge from western and eastern parts of India. The bridge will also connect Nepal and Bhutan, increasing transnational trade.

Several projects have been implemented for the socio-economic development in the south and south-western region over the last decade to maximise the potential once the bridge opens. Of the projects, a Tk 390 billion (39,000 crore) project is underway to set up rail tracks from Dhaka to Jashore. Constriction of 55-kilometre elevated expressway has been completed on the both side of the bridge from Dhaka to Faridpur’s Bhanga. The government said once the bridge opens, it would take an hour to cross this road that now takes 2-3 hours due to ferry crossing on the Padma river.

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Massive underwater work, first in the country

Karnaphuli river divides Chattiogram city into two. The city and the seaport are located on one side and the heavy industrial area on the other side. There are already three bridges on Karnaphuli river but those are not enough to tackle the pressure of the traffic. Besides, tourism is on the rise centering the world’s longest sea beach in Cox’s Bazar. A deep seaport and an economic zone are being built in Maheshkahli. Construction of a deep seaport and a coal-fired power plant is progressing in Matarbari. Putting all together, there is a plan to turn the region into a hub of Southeast Asia. A bay-terminal will be built in Chattogram. Taking the massive activities on either side of Karnaphuli river into consideration, a project was taken up to construct a tunnel, connecting Chattogram city and Anwara upazila.

Bangladesh and China signed a memorandum of understanding at the government level in 2014 to implement the project. Construction of the tunnel started on 24 February 2019 after completing design and other work. The project costs Tk 103.74 billion (10,374 crore). The country’s first tunnel under construction has been named after Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Once the tunnel opens to traffic, vehicles bound to Cox’s Bazar and southern Chattogram will no longer need to cross the Chattogram. Vehicles would reach destination in quickest time by crossing the tunnel via the City Outer Ring road, decreasing pressure of traffic on Chattogram city.

The work progress of Karnaphuli tunnel is 74.33 per cent. The tunnel will have two tubes for crossing. Work on a tube has already been completed while construction of the remaining one is underway. As per the agreement, the project deadline is next December. Officials observed work is likely to be completed by deadline.

Metro rail for Dhaka residents

The overall progress of the country’s first metro rail construction project on the capital’s Uttara-Motijheel route is 72 per cent. The project is being implemented in two phases. The government has already announced it would open metro rail on Uttra-Agargaon route in December next year. The progress of infrastructure work in this part is 89.61 per cent. Six sets of trains – one set consists with six coaches – purchased from Japan have arrived in Bangladesh. Performance test of these trains started last month and it would continue for six months, followed by another integrated test for three more months. Then trial run will be conducted for five more months. And that means metro rail will be ready to transport passengers in December next year.

According to a 2018 survey by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), vehicles, on average, move 5 kilometres an hour in the capital. It was 5 kilometres an hour 12 years ago. Passengers endure mental pressure due to traffic congestion for hours, leading to rise of various diseases. Traffic congestion destroys 5 million (50 lakh) working hours daily and causes Tk 370 billion (37,000 crore) annually in Dhaka only.

Amid this circumstance, recommendation was made Strategic Transport Plan (STP) to open metro rail on three routes in Dhaka by 2014 and on six more routes by 2030. The Uttara-Motijheel route is known as MRT Line-6 and its work is progressing. Construction of the remaining routes has not been started as yet.

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Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited is implementing the metro rail project. Its managing director MAN Siddique said metro rail would start carrying passengers on Uttara-Agargaon route in December next year. Process on the construction of three more metro rail routes in Dhaka is progressing, he added.

The MRT Line-6 is 20.10-kilometre long. It has 16 stations. Work on this route started in 2016. The project cost has been set at Tk 219.85 billion (21,985 crore). Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is financing Tk 165.94 billion (16,594 crore) and the government is providing the rest. It will take 38 minutes to travel from Uttara to Motijheel by metro rail that will carry 483,000 passengers on first day of its operation and the number will increase by over 1.8 million (18 lakh) by 2035.

Economy to accelerate, employment to be generated

Professor at BUET Shamshul Haque said Padma bridge, metro rail and Karnaphuli tunnel are iconic infrastructures that can be considered as transformative. Once these infrastructures open, it will add a different dimension in the country’s image. It will facilitate communication, accelerate economy and create jobs.

He said once the Padma bridge opens it would also be useful for the neighbouring countries and Bangladesh can earn from it. The same applies to Karnaphuli tunnel. The government is connecting Cox’s Bazar through rail. Cox’s Bazar is also being built as a fuel hub, professor Shamshul Haque added.

Metro rail is the best mode of transports among all diversified public transports. It is a culture. Waterlogging, traffic congestion and demonstration may bring the city to a standstill but the metro rail will remain open as the lifeline, professor Shamshul Haque said adding perhaps a metro rail would not meet the demand of entire Dhaka but once it will open people will enjoy the facility and more pressure will come from people to build more metro rails.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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