The Padma Bridge in Bangladesh: The art of breaking boundaries

The Padma Bridge over the Padma River is thus desirable to physically unite the country and provide rapid and secure connections to promote economic, social and industrial development of the relatively underdeveloped Southwestern zone.


by Anwar A. Khan

THE ART OF BREAKING BOUNDARIES

( October 12, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) In so doing, Bangladesh, then as today, has made a valuable contribution to expanding infrastructures, constructing architecturally impressive bridges and has, time and time again, created new examples of the art of modern engineering. This art is seen in a row of bridges across the country. But The Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge is the largest and longest one costing multi-billion US Dollars in Bangladesh’s construction history; it is an act of the country’s own full financing project and moreover, it is the art of breaking boundaries in the country’s construction industry.

BACKGROUND AND THE BRIDGE

Bangladesh is a riverine country. It has close to 700 rivers, large and small. The three major rivers-the Padma, Brahmaputra-Jamuna and Meghna divide the country into four principal areas such as the North, East, Northwest, and Southwest zones. To date, five major bridges such as, Meghna Bridge, Meghna-Gumti Bridge, Bhairab Bridge, Jamuna Bridge, and Paksey Bridge were built earlier that provide good links between the Northwest, North and East zones with the national capital Dhaka. Despite improved road networks, the Southwest zone is still separated by the Padma River and requires time-consuming ferry crossings to major destinations like the second major port Mongla, third largest city Khulna, and the main land port at Benapole. The Padma Bridge over the Padma River is thus desirable to physically unite the country and provide rapid and secure connections to promote economic, social and industrial development of the relatively underdeveloped Southwestern zone.

High quality and efficient infrastructure is critical to the development of industry, agriculture and trade throughout Bangladesh. However, not all infrastructure projects have the same impact. Some generate high social returns and contribute to private sector activity, employment and government revenues. Bangladesh’s economy has to perform efficiently and to play effective role in making true the dream of developed nation status. The construction sector has been playing a significant role in aggregate economy of the country in term of its contribution to revenue generation, capital formation and employment creation which ultimately support the GDP and the socio-economic development of the country.

The Padma Bridge is at its 6.15 km long, and it stands at the 25th longest road bridge in the world. The bridge is a multipurpose road-rail bridge across the world’s third largest river, Padma, connecting Louhajong, Munshiganj to Shariatpur and Madaripur which will link the South-West of the country, to Northern and Eastern regions. The main bridge will be located over the Padma River in the north-south direction starting at Mawa in the Dhaka side under Lauhajong Upazilla and ending at Janjira in the other side of the river under Shariatpur district. Almost 21 districts will be served by this bridge. Its influence area will broadly cover some major spectrums which include: I) 6 km north of Riverbank in Mawa side, II) 4 km south of riverbank of Janjira side, III)15km upstream( west), IV) 7 km downstream (east) and V) the corridor of the Asian Highway connecting Tamabil-Sylhet-Sorail-Kachpur-Dhaka-Mawa-Bhatiapara-Norail-Jessore-Benapole and the corridor of the Trans-Asian railway network and the railway missing link from Gendaria-Mawa through the bridge to Bhanga-Kashiani-Narail-Jessore-Benapole.

The proposed bridge is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in the country. It is a multipurpose fixed crossing over the Padma River with provisions for a rail line, gas pipeline, fiber-optic cable, and power transmission lines. The two-level steel truss bridge will carry a four-lane highway on the upper level and a single track railway on a lower level. The bridge lies on the Dhaka-Kolkata (India) link and will form an integral part of the Asian Highway and Euro-Asian Railway network systems. Once the bridge is built, travel between the southern districts and Dhaka will be cut by 100 km, benefiting not only the relatively undeveloped southwestern region, but the country as a whole. The project consists of a double-deck, steel-truss bridge with a four-lane, divided highway on the top deck and a single track rail on the bottom deck. The bridge will have two toll plazas and a 12-km-long, four-lane approach road on the southern side with service areas for construction management and tourism in the post-construction phase.

THE GOVERNMENT’S STRONG POLITICAL DETERMINATION TO CONSTRUCT THE PADMA BRIDGE

Bridge is not a construction but it is a concept, the concept of crossing over large spans of land or huge masses of water, and to connect two far-off points, eventually reducing the distance between them. The bridge provides passage over the obstacle of small caverns, a valley, hill, road, body of water, or other physical obstacle. Designs of bridges vary depending on the nature of the terrain and the function of the bridge and where it is constructed. For Bangladesh’s people, the Padma Bridge was once the long-drawn-out dream, because countless strictures and various stumbling blocks appeared before us to shatter the dream. But it is cheerfully encouraging to see that it has now become obvious like day-light. It is the most challenging as well as a landmark development initiative in the history of Bangladesh as it was one of the election-manifesto pledges of the current government. A strong political determination to the pledge and relentless effort from the part of the government is now being translated this dream project into reality.

THE AUREATE OF THE PADMA MULTI-PURPOSE BRIDGE

By looking, in turn, at trade, investment, and aid, the aureate of the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge in Bangladesh provides a picture on how we can capitalise on intensifying ties to foster economic diversification and development and examines the potential role that emerging economies of Bangladesh can play in order to encourage country’s regional integration. It has witnessed a major shift in the country’s development efforts. The rise of Bangladesh’s trade is not a trivial happenstance, considering the speed and intensity with which it occurred, and it’s potential to permanently alter the dynamics of the country’s trade. The key concern is the deceleration of growth, which will disproportionately affect the poor. It is critically important to preserve the foundations of growth erected through steady policy reforms and improvements in the investment climate; and this will allow the country to resume growth after any crisis. To achieve this goal, it is critical to sustain adequate levels of investment, especially in infrastructure. But that alone will not be enough if Bangladesh is to be able to restore a level of growth sufficient to reduce the levels of poverty. New and additional resources must be unlocked. The country must be part of the global response to such a crisis.

SUPPORT SOCIAL SAFETY NETS TO PROTECT THE POOR…

Protect the poor and the vulnerable by ensuring essential public investment programmes in health, education, nutrition, and sanitation can be maintained. Support social safety nets to protect the poor, the unemployed and the socially marginalised. Increase and sustain investment in infrastructure at national and regional level: stimulus packages must primarily target infrastructure projects. Increase the resource envelope for regional development; in particular agree on an early review of capital adequacy of the country. Overall, communications strategies in all programmes should promote improved well-being among beneficiaries. The whole community, including non-beneficiaries, will benefit economically after implementation of this gigantic bridge through multiplier effects on local goods, services and labour markets, although this will be mediated by the political, economic and social context. Changes in social networks will positively affect the most vulnerable and least powerful people in a community through greater inclusion once the bridge has become a reality including through an increased ability to make social contributions and increasing their entitlement sets and livelihood choices.

THE BRIDGE’S FAR-REACHING SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACTS

The benefits such as savings in vehicle operating costs and travel time savings accruing from the opening of Padma Bridge, in general, as the direct benefit or direct impact, which will be enjoyed by the direct users of Padma Bridge. On the other hand, impacts such as the increase in production and income based on the improvement of accessibility resulting from the direct benefits above are as indirect impacts or induced impacts. Although the Southwest Region is the area benefiting the most in the country, the impacts of Padma Bridge will spread over the whole country through the induced effects by its construction. These are multiplier effects of the huge amount of investment in Padma Bridge. These impacts will result in additional demand or output of production in related economic sectors, generation of additional factor income (Value Added) and creation of new job opportunities. These kinds of impacts are generated from the demand of input necessary during the construction of Padma Bridge and attributable not only to the Southwest Region but also to the whole country of Bangladesh. It should be noted, however, that the same type and the same volume of impacts will be possible by projects other than Padma Bridge if the same scale of investment is executed. In addition to the above impacts, induced economic impacts after opening of Padma Bridge are more important because they are induced by using the Padma Bridge itself for daily economic activities and depend heavily on the function of Padma Bridge to integrate the Southwest Region with other areas of the country .This is particularly the case with the Central Region in which Dhaka is located. Induced or indirect impacts of this kind are estimated by specifying such a sector (transport sector, in this case) that the demands of the sector are expected to increase immediately after opening of Padma Bridge. Initial increase of demand in that sector will stimulate production demands in other related sectors and result in an increase of output, factor income, and creation of new additional job opportunities as well.

II) The Padma Bridge and associated facilities are great importance for the development of Bangladesh and is expected to play the following important roles:

a. To integrate central and southwest regions of Bangladesh, reducing to 3-4 hours the driving time from Dhaka to the major cities in southwest region;

b. To contribute to the development of a regional economy in the southwest region of the country by improving transport accessibility to the region and at the same time, through the promotion of regional economic development, contribute to poverty reduction in the region;

c. To support substantial roles for socio-economic development of the northeastern parts of South Asia, encompassing neighboring countries. It will contribute to the formation of the route of the Asian Highway and its completion will be expected to improve bilateral trade and increase of tourists between Bangladesh and India.

d. Future traffic volume crossing the Padma Bridge is forecast by dividing normal traffic, diverted traffic, and induced traffic, respectively. The future traffic volume is estimated to be 21,260 vehicles/day in 2015 and 41,550 vehicles/day in 2025.

III) The Padma Bridge will generate remarkable impacts for the whole country of Bangladesh and contribute to the economic development of the Southwest Region. It is situated at the best location to form an international transport network, Asian Highway. If a railway provision on the bridge is effectively connected with the existing railway network, it can contribute to the formation of a multi-modal international transport network for the Eastern Region of India.

IV) Construction of Padma Bridge is viable from the macro-economic perspective. It will contribute to the development of the regional economy and to a reduction in poverty. At the same time, the contribution of the bridge has great significance in terms of developing the international transport corridor. Therefore, this should be an urgent project to be implemented at the earliest opportunity. Taking the importance of international transport corridor into consideration, the Padma Bridge shall have four lanes in both directions to meet the Asian Highway Standard and a necessary space along the median for future railway provision.

V).The bridge is expected to transform the country’s economically depressed southwest zone by connecting it to the capital city of Dhaka and other relatively developed regions. At least 30 million people, almost one-fifth of the country’s total population, will directly benefit from the bridge.

INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT TO BE ACCELERATED

“The social, economic, and industrial underdevelopment of the southwest zone–which encompasses Bangladesh’s second major port, Mongla, its third major city, Khulna, and the inland port at Benapole bordering India–is due in part to difficult access across the Padma River to the rest of the country. The bridge is expected to have a profound impact on the 30 million-plus people living in the southwest and accelerate economic growth in the country as a whole. At the same time, it is expected to raise Bangladesh’s GDP by 1.2%, pushing it over 7% and thus, enabling it to become a middle-income country in line with the international standards, with over $1,000 per capita income by 2020.”

GATEWAY BETWEEN THE CAPITAL CITY DHAKA AND SOUTH-WESTERN DISTRICTS

The under-construction Padma Bridge, due to be opened to traffic by the end of 2018 to serve as gateway between the capital city Dhaka and 21 South-Western districts, is changing people’s mindset with hopes for rapid and vast socio-economic developments. Economists predict once the bridge becomes operational, it is expected to push growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) up by 1.2 per cent and create employment opportunities for 10 million people. The Padma Multipurpose Bridge will transform the lives of nearly 30 million people living in the country’s southwest region, promoting industrial and commercial activities and increasing economic and employment opportunities, according to various studies and reviews on the major economic impact of the bridge project. At least 30 million people, almost one-fifth of the country’s total population, will directly benefit from the bridge. With the bridge, capital inflow will increase, promoting industrial and commercial activity and increasing economic and employment opportunities for the local population. The people of the region would have better access to health-care facilities available in Dhaka while easier communication would help to expand better education and training facilities, ensuring the availability of the quality workers required for sustainable economic growth. According to a research calculation: “Over the 31 years following completion of the bridge, overall benefits to road users from these two sources are projected to be Tk. 1.3 trillion (Tk.130,000crore).”

TO GENERATE WELFARE TO THE PEOPLE OF BANGLADESH

Construction of the Padma Bridge is expected to generate welfare to the people of Bangladesh in general and the people of South West in particular. The benefits are expected to arise from the greater integration of regional markets within the Bangladeshi national economy. Moreover, given the interdependence of economic activities/sectors, the direct impacts of the Padma Bridge on individual sectors and factor markets are likely to induce a chain of changes in the rest of the sectors of the economy. It will mainly save time for vehicles by using the bridge instead of ferry services, increase normal and induced traffic an ensure smooth movement of international commodities and enhanced passenger movements between Bangladesh and neighboring countries through Asian Highway. If we can complete the project successfully it would be a big boost for our regional and sub-regional connectivity. Eventually the country will enter a new era of spectacular development.

THE BRIDGE WILL FACILITATE REGIONAL TRADE; REDUCE POVERTY…

By reducing distances to major urban centres like Dhaka by almost 100km, the bridge will facilitate regional trade; reduce poverty while accelerating growth and development in the country as a whole. We hope the benefits of building road and rail transportation across the river would come from three main sources: decreased vehicle operating costs, increased time-savings, and a boost in GDP due to increased economic activities.

OVERALL BENEFITS TO ROAD USERS

Currently, drivers have to use longer and poorer roads on alternate routes to cross the river. Once the bridge is complete, vehicle-operating costs will fall significantly. Savings in travel time will account for nearly one-quarter of total benefits of the project. According to a research calculation: “Over the 31 years following completion of the bridge, overall benefits to road users from these two sources are projected to be Tk. 1.3 trillion(Tk.130,000crore). Over that three-decade timeframe, the economists estimate, the bridge will reach its full traffic capacity of 75,000 vehicles each day.

THE PADMA BRIDGE WILL SPUR ECONOMIC GROWTH STAGGERINGLY

The Padma Bridge will certainly have a positive impact… and it will spur economic growth tremendously. Looking at Bangladesh’s footprint in the country’s infrastructure development path, the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge in Bangladesh will be a milestone in its history. It is hoped that shortly after the bridge’s opening, traffic will engulf the large bridge as commuters and sightseers alike seek to cross the Bangladesh’s largest bridge. It will be an engineering marvel in the bridge construction in Bangladesh. I name it “GOLDEN GATE.” The mighty task is being done. It will be a Golden Gate Bridge for Bangladesh and its people. A few lines of a poem have come to my mind right now:

“At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The bridge looms mountain high;
Its Titan piers grip mighty river floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.

On its broad decks in rightful pride,
The world of Bangladesh in swift parade shall ride,
Throughout all time to be;
Launched ‘midst a thousand hopes and fears
Damned by a thousand hostile seers
Yet ne’er its course was stayed
But ask of those who met the foe,
Who stood alone when faith was low
Ask them the price they paid.

High overhead its lights shall gleam,
Far, far below life’s restless stream
Unceasingly shall flow;
For this is spun its lithe fine form
To fear not war, not time, not storm,
For love for Bangladesh has meant it so.”

THE NEED FOR BRIDGES IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE FOR A COUNTRY

The need for bridges was clear even in ancient times. As early roads began to connect villages together, the necessity of traversing natural obstacles encountered along the way became increasingly important. While a person carrying limited supplies could likely cross a river or stream by swimming; the same was not true for the carts and wagons needed to transfer large amounts materials and resources between destinations. Thus, the need for permanent sturdy bridges was born. This is a need that has only grown over time as human society entered the modern era. Some modern bridges traverse huge distances, such as the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China which runs approximately 102.4 miles in length; while others are much smaller, sometimes simply extending across a creek or slough. However, a common requirement in the construction of all modern bridges is the need for stability. As is the case with all construction (bridge, house, skyscraper or otherwise) stability begins with the foundation. The foundations of a bridge are of critical importance as they must support the entire weight of the bridge and the traffic loads that it will carry. As we look to the future, the scale and complexity of bridge design continues to become ever grander. The aesthetics of a finished bridge is also increasing in importance in the modern era; as bridges are viewed not only as functional constructs to traverse natural obstacles, but as works of art. However, one must always remember that a structure is only as strong as its foundation. Undoubtedly, the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge will have superior power and influence on the economy of Bangladesh once it has come into being.

-The End –

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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