Padma Bridge progresses amid corona scare

Thirty-year-old Solaiman Khan is a driver at the Padma Bridge project. He is from Bagerhat but has been living in Mawra, Munshiganj, from 17 January 2015 after construction of the bridge began. On the first day of his job, Solaiman stood on the banks of Padma, gazing out at the strong current. Even the larger vessels have a hard time going down the river.

Battery-run rickshaws used at the bridge site. Photo: Zia Islam

Then after the monsoon, sand bars emerged here and there during winter and he would wonder how such a massive bridge would be built over the river. But with the passage of time, Solaiman is seeing the bridge emerge before his eyes.

As he drives back and forth between the Padma Bridge project office in Dogachhi, Mawra to the Kumarbhog construction yard several times a day, he mutters, “The bridge is almost complete!” He hopes he will be able to drive from Mawra to Shariatpur on the very day the bridge is inaugurated.

Padma Bridge is no longer a dream. It is a reality. Every day progress is made. From the outset the project had seen all sorts of hurdles and things were delayed. And now with the emergence of coronavirus, there is likely to be further delay, road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader hinted.

On Tuesday, the bridge’s 26th span will be put into place.

Head of the Padma Bridge project’s expert committee, Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, told Prothom Alo that work on the bridge may be delayed if the Chinese workers are not released from quarantine to join their work. Also, there will be problems if construction material does not come in time from China. This has not had an impact so far but work may be affected after couple of weeks if the coronavirus situation does not improve.

Work in progress on the bridge. Photo: Zia Islam

On the morning of 3 March Solaiman was standing by Pier No 1. He pointed to the river, saying, “Look, you can see how Padma Bridge will look. The whole bridge will appear very soon.”

He said his was a temporary job with the project and he would have to leave and search for a new job once the bridge was complete. Won’t he feel bad?

“Why will I feel bad?” he exclaimed, “It is a dream and not just mine alone. It is everybody’s dream. I am from Bagerhat and it was difficult to go home. It took forever to cross this wide river. Once the bridge is complete, it will take just 10 minutes. Just imagine, I will be able to go to Bagerhat in just three hours!”

We started out by speedboat with Solaiman Khan at 12 noon from Mawra, headed towards Jajira. The light rain had cleared, giving way to a blue sky. The river was calm. We could see parts of the bridge as we went down the river.

Work in progress on the bridge. Photo: Zia Islam

So far 25 spans had been placed on 26 piers. From afar it looked like combs had been placed upside down on the river. Piers 10, 26 and 27 jutted out of the water mid-river. On 8 March, pier no 10 had been completed. There was a pontoon attached to pier no 26 where a large vessel was anchored. The workers were climbing from there onto the bridge. Some remained in the vessel, having their lunch. From the top of the pier it was apparent that each of these piers was equal in height to a 10-storey building. The spans were being placed upon these. The bridge was massive. This was quite evident from pier no 26. It would be cemented soon. The Bangladeshi workers were standing talking to the Chinese engineers. They communicated in words and gestures.

Md Rakib Hossain, a local worker, had picked up quite a lot of Chinese. He said, “I began working on pier no 37 in 2015. I have worked on 10 or 12 more piers since then. I didn’t understand Chinese at first, but now I understand quite a lot.”

Around 500 feet away from pier 26, work was going on at pier 27. Pier 28’s construction was complete. Spans had been placed from pier 29 to all the way to pier 42. Work continued.

Trains would run along the two-storey Padma Bridge. Vehicles would run above. Railway slabs had been placed by cranes between the spans. Workers easily carried heavy construction material up steel stairs stretching up around 10 storeys high. The railway line would be laid towards the end. Trains would travel at 80 km down the track along the bridge.

Construction workshop at Mawa.Photo: Zia Islam

It will take about another one and a half years before the Padma Bridge is ready for use, according to the authorities. Due to coronavirus , two spans and more materials have been held up, as well as 172 Chinese engineers and workers. Once these arrive, work can proceed. But these two spans, unable to reach Bangladesh, are being considered as a big factor.

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir


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