Bridge to help improve tourism, trade, ease of access
Once upon a time, tourists travelling from Dhaka to Kuakata had to wait for ferries at 11 different points, which would make a journey anything between 16 to 18 hours, and sometimes, even longer.
Putting an end to the waiting game for hours on end for ferries, travelers can soon travel to Kuakata — one of the popular tourist destinations in the country — uninterrupted, as the government is set to open up the 1.47km-long Payra Bridge in October.
As Payra Bridge in the Lebukhali area of Barisal is ready to be opened soon to the public, the last ferry at Lebulkhali point, which falls on the same route, will cease operations. The journey, too, will be halved, to eight hours.
However, the travel duration is likely to reduce further once the Padma Multipurpose Bridge is opened for traffic in June next year.
The Payra Bridge is also expected to play a significant role in boosting local and regional trade, as it would ensure an uninterrupted connectivity with the Payra Deep Sea Port.
“We have sent a proposal to the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry to open up the bridge for traffic. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hopefully inaugurate the bridge in October,” said Payra Bridge Project Director Abdul Halim.
“The bridge on the Barisal-Patuakhali route will boost trade and tourism due to uninterrupted travel,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Free mobility of road transport
The government constructed several bridges on the Dhaka-Barisal-Patuakhali-Kuakata Highway in the last few years, but passengers had to cross the Payra River on ferries, which usually took about an hour. Now it will become a matter of minutes.
Local communication is also expected to become vibrant once the bridge is opened. The distance from Barisal city to Patuakhali headquarters is around 40km, to Payra Port is 50km, and to Kuakata 110km.
Once the bridge is open for traffic, travelling to the Payra Deep Sea Port and the Patuakhali district headquarters would be possible within an hour from Barisal, while it would take just about two hours to reach Kuakata.
“It is one of the most awaited bridges for the people of southern Bangladesh as it will ensure smooth local and regional communication,” said Abdul Halim.
Tourism to increase
According to tour operators, tourists are always keen on travelling to the country's southwestern destinations such as Kuakata and Sundarbans.
"With the completion of Payra Bridge, local tourism will see a boom as the bridge can ensure hassle-free travel to Kuakata,” said Md Rafeuzzaman, president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB).
“We have already sent a proposal to the government to launch cruise services between Kuakata and Sundarbans as it will attract both local and international tourists,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
According to TOAB, there are more than 150 hotels, including two five stars, in the region that cater to about 10,000 people daily.
Boost in trade
The bridge is also expected to facilitate smooth communication with the Payra Deep Sea Port and the commercial hubs of the country, according to businesspeople and officials.
As of December 2020, some 106 ocean going ships — carrying various raw materials such as clinker and stone — have arrived at Payra port since its inception. Once the port comes into full operation, more vehicles would be able to carry goods across the country from the sea port.
Currently, waiting for a ferry creates hassle, as well as, increase in costs and time for importers.
"The Payra Bridge will play a vital role in developing the region's economic activities," said Saidur Rahman Rintu, president of the Barisal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The shipbuilding, garment, and fish processing industries would benefit the most,” he added.
“The bridge will help to create employment for the people of the southern region,” said Saiful Hasan, divisional commissioner of Barisal Division.
Bridge with longest span
The Payra Bridge is the only bridge in the country to have the longest distance (200m) between the main peers (pillars). Even the Padma Multipurpose Bridge is not even close with 150m distance between each span.
The bridge also has been fitted with a first-of-a-kind technology in Bangladesh that could signal the authority about accidents, overloaded vehicles, and natural disasters.
“The bridge was designed with the longest span to ensure easy passage of vessels underneath as there is tremendous current and water flow in the river. Short gaps between peers generally lead to collisions,” said Ashish Kumar, former project manager.
Along with local smaller vessels, a number of large ships also travel the Payra River.
Project Director Abdul Halim said: “One of the main features of this bridge is that it will signal any accident. For the first time in the country, a health monitoring and peer protection system has been installed on a bridge.
“As a result, any type of overloaded vehicle will get a signal from the health monitoring system immediately once it climbs the bridge, which will also signal authorities. Similarly, the system is expected to give a signal if and when there is a risk of damage to the bridge, due to various natural disasters, including high magnitude earthquakes and thunderstorms.”
The project, being implemented by Chinese contractor Longjian Road and Bridge Construction, was initially set to be completed by April 2016 at a cost of about Tk413 crore, but is finally seeing the light of day after having spent Tk1,447.24 crore and delaying the deadline about five times.