Bangladesh refuses more time to build bridge over troubled waters

The body overseeing construction of Bangladesh’s transformational Padma Bridge has asked for a six-month extension to rethink some of the piling for the treacherous river, but the country’s transport minister said the deadline of December 2018 – which coincides with a general election – must be met.

Carrying a four-lane road and a railway to connect the poverty-stricken southwest of the country to the north and east, the 6.15-km-long, double-deck bridge over the treacherous River Padma will provide a safe alternative to ferry crossings, which have seen two fatal disasters in 2014 and 2015.

Padma is one of the uncertain rivers of the world, like the Amazon. There will be ups and downs in its flow– Road and bridges minister Obaidul Quader

Designed by US giant Aecom, the main bridge has been under construction by China Major Bridge Engineering (CMBE) since December 2014 and is reported to be 44% complete.

It has been called the "most challenging construction project in the history of Bangladesh" by the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers, as the fast-flowing river carries a high volume of sediment and is susceptible to deep scour during monsoons, requiring deep pile foundations to ensure stability. The site is also in an active seismic zone.

Now the Padma Bridge project authority has requested that the completion deadline be pushed back to June 2019 from the agreed end date of December 2018, saying piling work was disrupted due to uncontrollable currents on the river bed, and to the discovery there of unstable soil, newspaper Dhaka Tribune reported yesterday.

However, a minister of the incumbent Awami League government told the newspaper that it remains committed to having the priority project, which is expected to boost economic growth, finished before the next parliamentary election which must take place between 30 October 2018 and 27 January 2019.

"The government did not accept such proposal on the Padma Bridge project," said road and bridges minister Obaidul Quader, who is also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League.

"Padma is one of the uncertain rivers of the world, like the Amazon," he said. "There will be ups and downs in its flow. But we are still firm on our decision to complete the bridge by December 2018."

Speaking to The Tribune, Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, head of the project’s advisory panel, said: "We have given some additional directives and guidelines to the construction firm to strengthen the piling work. Especially 14 (piers) pillars are proving to be problematic, which is why it should be re-analysed."

"If we have to remodel the pillars, it can take more time," the professor said.

According to the newspaper the depth of the piles had been specified at between 90m and 120m but during construction the soil underground was found to be poorer than expected, so Reza’s team set the pile depth at 130m for selected piles.

Bridge authority officials said some 44% construction work of Padma Bridge was completed as of June and the first of 41 spans was to be installed in September.

Image: Artist’s impression of the 6.15-km-long, double-deck bridge over the treacherous River Padma in Bangladesh (Institution of Civil Engineers)

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  1. It is most important that the bridge be completed within the stipulated time and it is equally important that same is accomplished taking into account the safety and durability of the bridge. The authorities concerned should adopt a policy of ” Better late than be sorry”. Our Hon. Prime Minister, Sk. Hasina is a wise and pragmatic leader whose sincere objectives are to provide the best for our country therefore; her advise should be sought before taking any decision.

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