Bangladesh saw faltering progress on major infrastructure projects in 2017, with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Padma Bridge Rail Link, Dhaka Metro Rail and Dhaka Elevated Expressway all behind schedule.
Among the three, the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project has been earmarked as the highest priority, as it is being constructed solely with government funds after the withdrawal of loans from the World Bank due to a corruption scandal.
The bridge is also considered a key political tool for the government ahead of the upcoming national election in early 2019.
The Padma Multipurpose Bridge
The construction of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project is scheduled for completion by December 2018. The bridge would greatly ease travel in Bangladesh by connecting 21 districts of the country.
The project finally began to take shape this year, with the installation of the first span atop two piers at the Janjira point of Shariatpur on September 30.
However, only about 48% of the bridge has been completed as per the latest updates, which is slightly behind schedule. Furthermore, construction work on the bridge is growing increasingly complicated, as a number of problems have cropped up in the designs which need to be resolved.
While project officials have been working around the clock to solve design issues with 14 pillars of the 6.15km bridge, problems with a further eight pillars, some of which have already been partially constructed, have also been revealed as barriers to the timely completion of the project.
“We have now requested that the construction supervision consultant inspect the designs of all 40 pillars,” a Bangladesh Bridge Authority official said.
In addition, the Padma Bridge project authority submitted a proposal to the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) in the middle of the year, requesting an extension to the deadline for the project to June 2019 instead of December 2018.
IMED is yet to accept the proposal, however, as the incumbent Awami League government is committed to completing the project before the 2019 parliamentary election.
“The government did not accept such proposal on the Padma Bridge project. We are still firm in our decision to complete the bridge by December 2018,” said Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader when asked about the issue.
The Padma Bridge Rail Link
The government plans to begin train service via the Padma bridge simultaneously with its scheduled launch in December 2018. But construction for the rail line is yet to begin as funds have not been mobilised.
Railways officials said that The Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM Bank) is going to fund the rail line, which will cost an estimated Tk34,988 crore. EXIM bank has committed to providing Tk24,749 crores in loans for the project.
Railways Ministry Secretary Mofazzel Hossain said: “We will get the funds within very short time. The government is currently acquiring land for the rail line with its own funds.”
In the first stage, the government is acquiring land in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Madaripur and parts of Faridpur.
The Dhaka Metro Rail (MRT Line-6)
The MRT Line-6, which will stop at 16 stations from Uttara to Motijeel and carry over 22,000 passengers per hour, is scheduled to open in 2021.
The government wishes to open the service from Uttara to Agargaon by 2019, but construction has only progressed by 14% since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the project on October 31, 2013.
Construction work on tracks and elevated stations began in August, 2017.
“We believe there will be significant progress on the metro rail in 2018, as civil work has already begun,” said MAN Siddique, managing director of the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL).
Initial delays to the project were caused by the terror attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan on July 1, 2016, where several Japanese officials and consultants to the project were killed.
A new challenge for the project has emerged in meeting conditions to receive funding for the metro rail from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), who are jointly financing the endeavour with the Bangladesh government.
A team from JICA visited Bangladesh in September 2017, stipulating that 85 officials be appointed to run the metro rail and compensation for land acquired be dispensed by the end of this month in order for the funds to be released for the MRT Line-6 and Line-5. Neither task has been completed as yet.
However, Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority Executive Director Syed Ahmed said: “We have already decided to appoint 75 officials on an emergency basis and also to hand out the compensation.”
The MRT Line-6 is being constructed in eight phases at a cost of Tk22,000 crore. The construction work is being conducted by Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited, Sinohydro Corporation Limited JV and a Tokyo based construction company.
Dhaka Elevated Expressway
Work on the Dhaka Elevated Expressway has progressed by only 10% over six years, with project facing an acute funding crisis. There was particularly little progress this year, raising fears over the project’s future.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction of the 21km elevated expressway on April 30, 2011, with plans for it to be completed by June 2014. The Bangladesh Bridge Authority and Ital-Thai Ltd signed a Tk8,703cr deal in this regard in the year of inauguration.
However, Ital-Thai soon began facing financial difficulties as they were unable to locate financiers for the project. They signed a $1.06 billion contract with China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) in 2015, but the CRCC eventually cancelled the deal.
The construction firm subsequently enacted an agreement with the Chinese Investment Global Foundation (ASIA) Company Ltd on December 29, last year, but was unsuccessful in procuring the requisite loans.
The Bridges division was on the verge of cancelling the deal with Ital-Thai, but decided to give the firm an additional six months to collect the funds in July this year. The extension period ends this month, but the funds have yet to be acquired.
The Dhaka Elevated Expressway is to be implemented in three parts: from Hazrat Shajalal International Airport to Banani, Banani to Moghbazar and finally Moghbazar to Kutubkhali alongside the existing rail track. The 21km mainline will have 31 ramps connected to different parts of the city. Once completed, commuters will have direct access to the Chittagong Highway from the airport.