Padma Bridge has been inaugurated. In an interview with Prothom Alo, Professor Hadiuzzaman of the civil engineering department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), speaks of what measures should be taken for expanded transport management and road safety, and also how things may turn out for Dhaka city, after Padma Bridge goes into operation.
We often hear of road accidents in the south. Do you think these accidents may increase with Padma Bridge going into operation?
In 2021 alone, 76 persons died in road accidents on the 55km stretch of the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga expressway. Over 300 were injured, most of whom were pedestrians. There were many more minor accidents of which there is no accurate account. The main cause of these accidents is a lack of awareness, buses stopping randomly to pick up and drop passengers, infrastructural weaknesses and not taking pedestrians into cognizance when constructing the expressway. The country's first expressway has gained a bad reputation because of these accidents. And with the start of Padma Bridge, traffic in this area will naturally increase. This gives rise to apprehensions of an increase in accidents.
How can these road accidents be brought under control?
The construction of the expressway has separated the people on either side though they are socially connected. They need to cross the road for various purposes. Overpasses or underpasses must be constructed every 500 metres along the expressway. And awareness must be mobilised among the people by application of the law. Care must be taken so youngsters don't use the expressway as a racing track. No one should be allowed to use the expressway without a driving licence.
What other infrastructure can be made in keeping with Padma Bridge?
We can consider the present expressway to be our forward link. This is a fast route to reach the Padma Bridge toll plaza from Dhaka or the southern region. But the roads from there on are the backlinks and these must be developed. If not, it will not be possible to get the full benefit of Padma Bridge. The number of vehicles will increase because of Padma Bridge. To meet the demand of the new vehicles, the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP) placed most importance on the 88km ring road around Dhaka city. That has not been constructed yet. Then, after crossing Bhanga, the road leading to Khulna, Jashore or nearby areas, is still just two lanes. So traffic jams may increase at the entrance to Dhaka and the two-lane road in the south.
Once Padma Bridge is operative, will the ferry terminals and speedboats lose importance?
As a result of this bridge, the southern region can be reached by road, railway and river routes. While the use of river routes may lessen somewhat, this will not lose importance altogether. After all, transporting passengers and goods by the river route is cheaper. There are many passengers who would rather save money than time. And if we want an overall development of the communication system, then the road, railway and river routes all must be given equal importance.
Along with Padma Bridge, the southern region can see a burst of industrialisation. What should the government do about this?
Care must be taken so that the industrialisation spurred on by Padma Bridge is not unplanned. A land management policy for the southern region and areas around Padma Bridge must be formulated immediately. An investment-friendly environment must be created along with policies concerning the price of land, so that the price for land doesn't just shoot up.
Is Dhaka city prepared to keep pace with Padma Bridge?
In that sense, no, Dhaka is not prepared. The ring road around Dhaka city hasn't been constructed and so the vehicles travelling from the northern to the southern region will have to go through Dhaka city. And the vehicles coming to Dhaka will enter through Jatrabari. It is estimated that every day 20,000 vehicles will cross Padma Bridge and within 10 to 15 years, this will increase to 40,000. So priority must be given to constructing the ring road around Dhaka.
So will traffic congestion in Dhaka deteriorate even further?
There are apprehensions that the traffic congestion will worsen. A company-based bus service like 'Dhaka Nagar Paribahan' must be rapidly started up on 42 routes of Dhaka city. Illegal vehicles, vehicles without fitness, and non-motorised vehicles must be removed from the roads.