'Covid-19 and natural calamities are the primary reasons why we need to extend the deadline'
Construction of the much discussed Padma Bridge is being impacted by natural calamities including river erosion and strong currents in the Padma River with excessive rainfall this monsoon.
Now the cherished project might again fail to meet the June 2021 deadline for completion.
The Bridge Division has already taken steps to revise the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project construction deadline. Work on the bridge started back in 2014 with a target of completion by 2018. The deadline has been extended twice already due to various delays.
Bridge Division Secretary Belayet Hossian said: “It will be tough to complete the bridge within the set deadline. We have proposed extending the deadline.”
“Covid-19 and natural calamities are the primary reasons why we need to extend the deadline,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Span installation not be possible
Span installation is the most important work at the Padma Bridge which is being delayed by extremely strong river currents that make working on the bridge very difficult. The river has been above the danger level since the monsoon floods began, making span installation next to impossible.
According to project officials, the crane used for span installation can be displaced by the strong river currents. Hence, the installation process has been brought to a temporary halt.
On a visit to the project site, it was found that seven spans are ready for installation but it is not possible due to the slow yet strong river currents.
Project Manager (main bridge) Engineer Dewan Md Abdul Kader said no work on the bridge will be possible until the water recedes.
“The water level is now above 6.17m. Once it goes down to 4.8m, we can resume the work,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
The work has been suspended for more than two months since the installation of the 31st span, though now 4.65km of the 6.15km-long bridge is visible. Ten spans are yet to be installed.
All the spans would be installed by July according to plan, but now the project engineer says the work will likely be completed by December, once the strong currents weaken and work can be resumed.
River erosion damages construction materials
The project’s construction yard was also affected by erosion in Mawa of Munshiganj last month.
Expensive materials kept at the yard for bridge construction, including 30-40 slabs of the bridge, 15-20 railway girders, and 10-20 pipes have been lost to the Padma River. Boundary walls of the construction yard were also damaged on July 31.
Engineer Dewan Md Abdul Kader said: “We failed to move expensive materials in time with mechanical cranes.”
According to project officials, the Korean Expressway Corporation (KEC) construction firm didn’t give timely warning about the possible risk of river erosion. However, after the fact of erosion, the firm has taken steps to prevent erosion at the project site.
Instruction issued to not share info on social media
The authority of the Padma Bridge project has asked all of its officials and staff to not share any information, photos, and videos of the bridge construction on social media.
It also said any interaction, ideas, thoughts, or information, including any mention of hazardous occurrences or natural disasters, should not be shared on Facebook, Viber or Whatsapp, etc.
Several project officials and staff confirmed the matter to Dhaka Tribune on Sunday upon receiving the letter.
Engineer Dewan Md. Abdul Kader said: “I have received a letter not to share any photo or information on social media. Maybe all officials in the project got the letter too, as many of us share ‘unusual information’.”
As to why this secrecy, an official, wishing anonymity, said that some staff had allegedly shared photos of the bridge during the floods recently. Mainly, the equipment being washed away by the river..
Some youtube channels later picked them up from social media and made videos saying that Padma Bridge construction will be stopped, among other conspiracy theories. To prevent that type of controversy, such instructions were likely issued, the official said.
However, there are no restrictions to talk with the media so far, according to the letter. But, another order issued by the Ministry of Public Administration said none of the officials could talk to the press without prior permission of the departmental head.
Construction of the Padma Bridge started in November 2014 to connect the country's southwestern region to the capital with road and rail links.
The project cost rose to Tk30,193 crore following several postponements of the deadline. The overall project progressed approximately to 81% by June this year, while financial progress of the main bridge work was found to be at 87%.
Once opened, the 6.15km-long bridge will connect the capital with 21 southern districts. It is expected to boost the country's GDP by 1.2%.