Bridge Authority officials said the progress of Padma Bridge's construction work till June is 44%.
The first span of the Padma Bridge superstructure will be installed between two pillars at Janjira point next month, the project’s director has revealed.
Under the original plan, the first span was due to be moved into position in December last year and had been sitting in the construction yard since August 8, 2016.
However, this timetable was adjusted due to engineering challenges of one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects.
“The Padma River has very strong currents. We faced trouble with the current several times that disrupted the works. The soil condition in the Mawa site is also awful,” said Md Shafiqul Islam, the project director of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project.
“We have overcome all the challenges. Now everyone, including the engineers and the workers are putting in their best effort to build the piers to begin setting up the spans in August,” he added.
The first of the Chinese-built spans was to be installed on the Mawa site of the river, but the project authorities have moved this to the Janjira point because strong currents in Mawa disturbed the piling there.
As per the bridge design, the spans will be 150 metres long. Each span will have two metres of concrete on the upper deck and bitumen molding on top of that for flexible movement of transport and a single track railway on a lower level.
During a recent visit to the construction site, it was seen that eight spans were ready to be set up over the pillars.
The Padma Bridge will have 42 pillars including two transition piers closer to the land. These pillars will carry the spans. All the spans are made in China at Major Bridge Engineering Company Ltd’s yard.
Dewan Abdul Kader, executive engineer of the project, said: “Most of the spans will be delivered from China within this year.”
Janjira point on Padma is now abuzz with activity. Basement work of the pillar is ongoing. Workers are working there day and night. Around three thousand people are working in the Padma Bridge project, of them nearly 800 are foreigners. Most of the foreigners are Chinese, and US, British, Indian and Japanese nationals are working as engineers, consultants and officials.
According to the latest plan, the bridge will be completed by December 2018.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader told the Dhaka Tribune: “Around 44% of the construction work has been completed till June. Hopefully the bridge will be useable for transport by the end of next year.”
An engineer of Bridges Division said if the bridge is to be completed by December 2018, about 57% of the work would have to be done in 18 months, which he described as “very challenging”.
“The Government would like to complete the work within schedule and we are working seriously as well, but the condition of the river bed is unpredictable. So it will be a great challenge, but we are trying,” he said.
The total project cost is Tk28,793cr after a third re-estimation. A project authority can re-estimate its costs only three times, but the rule has been set aside for the Padma bridge project. The authority has already spent Tk13,000cr for the project.
The back story
The government officially planned to build Padma Bridge in 1999, during the first term of Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government. But the progress of the project slowed down in BNP’s term. Only the feasibility study primary design and funding was done during that period.
When Awami League was elected again in 2008, the government accelerated the project as part of its election manifesto.
The Padma Bridge project was to be funded by donors including the World Bank, Jica, ADB and IDB. However, the World Bank had suspended funds on June 29, 2012 saying it had credible evidence, corroborated by a variety of sources, which pointed to a high-level corruption conspiracy.
This, it said, involved Bangladeshi government officials and executives of the Canadian firm CNC-Lavalin who were nominated as the construction firm for Padma Bridge, and private individuals connected to the project.
However, the government denied the allegation and tried to negotiate with the World Bank. The bank gave some conditions to the government to fund the project again, including the demands that the government relieve some public officials and communication minister Abul Hossain, who were allegedly involved in the corruption.
Syed Abul Hossain resigned on July 24, 2012, but told the media that he was innocent and would “come out clean” from the Anti-Corruption Commission probe that was launched at that time.
The World Bank had demanded a full and fair investigation of the corruption allegations to renew World bank financing. The government did not initially file a case for lack of evidence.
When the World Bank provided additional evidence to the government, the ACC filed an FIR against certain. However, on February 2013, the government informed the global lender that it was withdrawing the loan request.
The government decided then that the Padma bridge was a priority project of the government and if they waited for the investigation the project would not be implemented in time.
Later, Washington also decided that World Bank would not finance the project until Bangladesh gave an assurance that a complete and fair probe was underway.
Soon afterwards, the government decided to fund the bridge by itself.
On Feb 12, 2017, a Toronto court threw out a police case charging SNC-Lavalin officials of corruption in the Padma Bridge case. The clearance followed a ruling by the judge that some wiretap and noted evidence, which the prosecution had wanted to use in the trail, was inadmissible.