Padma multipurpose bridge, which is the longest of its kind in Bangladesh, has been inaugurated. Spanning across the turbulent Padma River, the bridge was commissioned by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This comes after approximately eight years of construction, delays, political conflicts, high costs and graft allegations.
The opening of the bridge is a key infrastructure goal by Hasina and has been billed by her government as the jewel in its crown. The bridge reportedly shows the grit, determination and resilience of the administration in the face of international pressure and domestic criticism.
A brief about the Padma multipurpose bridge
Construction of the six-kilometre Padma multipurpose bridge began in November 2015. China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group build the bridge after winning the contract in 2014. Reportedly, other than being the longest in Bangladesh, the bridge is also the longest built by a Chinese firm outside China.
The project’s main aim is to connect the country’s southwestern region with the capital, Dhaka, via road and rail. The project cost of US$ 3.86bn. It was entirely financed by the government of the South Asian country. This is after the World Bank and other global lending agencies pulled out of the project.
The banks pulled out of the project due to a corruption scandal involving SNC-Lavalin, the project’s initial contractor. The Canadian construction company was accused of bribing officials overseeing the project.
Significance of the project
According to Economist Mustafizur Rahman, the bridge will help grow Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.3% annually. It will also increase jobs, service sector activity and tourism, especially in the southwestern region.
The Padma Multipurpose Bridge is a road-rail bridge that is being constructed across Padma or Podda, which is a major river in Bangladesh and Indi, and the main distributary of the Ganges or Ganga River, to connect Louhajong, Munshiganj to Shariatpur and Madaripur, linking the south-west region of the South Asian country, to northern and eastern regions.
Designed by a team that included experts from Northwest Hydraulic Consultants, SMEC International, ACE Consultants, Aas Jakobsen, and HR Wallingford, led by Maunsell AECOM, the New Zealand subsidiary business of AECOM, the bridge is considered to be the most challenging construction project in the history of Bangladesh.
It is an approximately 6.15km long and 21.1m wide double deck composite steel truss structure with a total of 41 piers of a length of 150m. The upper deck of the bridge will carry a four-lane highway, while the lower deck will have a rail line that is planned for construction in the future, a gas transmission pipeline, an optic-fibre cable, and power transmission lines.
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The Padma Bridge design aligns with the “displacement-based approach” for seismic resilience and implements seismic isolation between the superstructure girder and the pier-and-foundation system. This approach enables the principal bridge components to move relative to one another in case of earthquakes, thereby dissipating the large forces.
Friction pendulum bearings are used to permit large relative displacements between the bridge superstructure and the bridge piers.
The detailed design of the project was given the 2010 award for the Best Safeguard Planning System by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), an international development finance institution whose mission is to help its developing member countries to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of their people.
Upon completion, the Padma Bridge will be the longest bridge in Bangladesh and the longest over the Ganges river in terms of span and total length. It will also be a landmark structure and one of the longest river crossings in the entire world.
Apart from the bridge, the project also includes the construction of 15.1km of approach roads, 2.3km of which are on the Mawa side and 12.8km on the Janjira side, toll plazas, and facilities for dredging and riverbank protection.
In April, the Government of Bangladesh initiated the process of shortlisting the contractors for the bridge construction.
The tenders were called in June. China Major Bridge Engineering Company, Daelim-L&T JV, and Samsung C&T Corporation participated in the tendering process.
In August, the bidding process was stalled by the World Bank after the alleged irregularities in the bidding process.
In October the World Bank funding for the project was suspended and later on withdrawn, following which the Government of Bangladesh decided to fund the project from its own fund.
China Major Bridge Engineering Company submitted its financial proposal on 24 April.
In June, the company was awarded the project’s construction contract.
In October, more than one and a half years after the main construction work began, the first span was installed between pillars 37 and 38.
In late November, the construction of all the 42 pillars was completed.
The final (41st) span of the bridge was installed in December.
In August, the last road slab was installed on the span, which linked pillars 12 and 13.
Padma multipurpose bridge project in Bangladesh 96.50% complete
Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, one of the most challenging projects in the history of Bangladesh is approximately 96.50% complete according to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The latter explained that 100 per cent of work on the approach road and service area at both ends of the bridge was complete while the construction work of carpeting, viaduct carpeting, waterproof membrane, movement joint of main bridge and viaduct, lamp post, aluminium railing, gas pipeline, 400 KVA electricity and railway line is in progress at present.
According to Hasina, the revised cost of the Padma Bridge project is Tk 30,193.39 crore.
In September, while virtually attending a Doa mahfil and Quran distribution program to mark Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s 75th birthday at Naria Upazila in Shariatpur district, the Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader announced that the Padma Bridge will be opened for vehicular movement before June next year (2022).
In the first week of November 2021, asphalt carpeting on the road slabs of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge began from the Jajira end.
According to Dewan Md Abdul Quader, the executive engineer of the main bridge project, the project team will first pave 300 meters of the bridge. Roughly, it will take the team at least four months to complete the entire bridge without any interruptions.
“The carpeting works started from Pillar-40 of the Padma Bridge. The initial asphalt layer is 2.5 inches thick and at some point, it will be 1.5 inches. Noteworthy, we will also start installing street lights on the bridge from next month,” said Mr Quader.
The progress of physical works of the main structure of the Padma Bridge is now 95% complete while the overall progress of the bridge construction is 88.75%.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader announce the project is on course and the bridge is expected to be inaugurated in June 2022 as planned.
“We have already completed the approach road, and we are now undertaking the pitch-casting work, the completion of which will mean the completion of the entire Padma Bridge project,” explained the minister.
New deal signed for operation and management of Padma multipurpose bridge
A deal for the operation and management of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge has been signed. The Korea Expressway Corp. (KEC), a South Korean corporation running the toll roads of South Korea, was awarded the project, for the first time among South Korea’s state-run enterprises. The operator of the expressway recently stated that it had signed a deal worth 100 billion (US$ 78.7 million with the Bangladesh Bridge Authority.
As per the terms of the deal, the Korea Expressway Corp. will install an intelligent traffic management system at the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. This system is known as “Hi-pass” and it is also a prepaid system for expressways utilized in South Korea. The deal also states that after the opening of the bridge, KEC will carry out various tasks that include safety patrols, toll collection, road structure maintenance as well as disaster management.
Proposed Toll Rates Might Remain for Padma Multipurpose Bridge
Meanwhile, the proposed toll rates for the bridge, which are reportedly 1-5 times higher than the current or rather existing ferry rates against all vehicles by the BBA, are more than likely to remain final.
Sources state that the proposed higher toll rates for the engineering icon are in an effort to pay back the TK 301.93 billion project cost, back to the government exchequer within the next 35 years.
TK 750 will be fixed for private jeep(s) and car(s), TK 2400 for buses, TK 1600 for five-tonne trucks, TK 2100 for trucks above 5 to 8 tonnes, and TK 2800 for trucks above 8 to 11 tonnes. The trucks that have three axles will incur a toll rate of TK 5500 for a trip while a trailer having four axles will incur a toll rate of TK 6000. A trailer that has got more than four axles will incur a toll rate of up to TK 1500 extra for each axle from the toll rate of TK 6000.