Two more bridges on the Meghna and Gumti rivers are all set to open to traffic next week.
With the newly built Kanchpur bridge already in operation, the two new additions are expected to bring relief to travellers on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, especially during this Eid holidays.
A new overpass on the east end of Kanchpur bridge will also be opened before Eid, further easing traffic movement on the Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Sylhet highways, and boosting businesses as well.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the two four-lane bridges through a video conference on May 25, Abu Saleh Md Nuruzzaman, project director of the three bridges, told The Daily Star yesterday.
The new bridges will be an addition to the old two-lane ones.
Although some works will remain incomplete, the overpass on the east end of Kanchpur bridge will be opened to public on May 31 to ease Eid journey.
The otherwise dual carriageway between the port city and the capital shrinks to a single one at the Meghna and Gumti bridges. The old Kanchpur bridge is technically a dual carriageway but its width is not adequate.
Given this situation, traffic often crawls to a halt at the approaches to the bridges. The situation worsens ahead of Eid and during weekends as more vehicles ply the roads.
Travellers and truckers can find themselves stuck on the 192km highway -- the busiest in the country -- for 10 to 12 hours, instead of the expected five hours.
“We hope there will be no such sufferings [this time],” Abu Saleh Md Nuruzzaman said.
Visiting the two bridges yesterday, this correspondent saw workers putting the final touches.
“We are now doing the paint job. Installation of lamp posts remain the only work left. However, that will be completed within three to four days,” a worker at Gumti Bridge said.
Several hundred workers were also seen on the overpass.
“Around 400 to 500 workers have been working round the clock, even before the start of Ramadan, to complete the work before Eid,” a worker said.
Currently, metres away from the Kanchpur bridge, the traffic from Sylhet joins a junction on the highway to head for the capital and some vehicles from Chattogram take a right turn towards Sylhet, halting traffic moving towards the port city.
But the situation will change once the overpass is opened as vehicles will no longer need to wait at the signal, the project director said.
The work on the around 400-metre new Kanchpur bridge was completed in December and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the second Kanchpur Bridge on Shitalakkhya River on March 16.
The new bridge is two metres wider than the old one. The authority has already started restoration work on the old bridge.
Mosharref Hossain, general manager of Hanif Paribahan, said three new bridges would reduce public sufferings during Eid.
But he feared that vehicles would slow down at toll plaza ahead of the Meghna bridge and cause jam.
The authorities should consider the matter beforehand, he said.
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, the outgoing president of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) expressed happiness at the news of the bridges’ opening and said around 95 percent export and import were done via Chattogram port, but traffic congestion caused by the narrow bridges resulted in losses for businesses.
“I think, this [opening of new bridges] will save two days and will help a lot in export and import.”
While most infrastructure projects face delays, the bridges are expected to be completed ahead of time and cost less than what was estimated in the development project pro forma (DPP), officials said.
After the feasibility study, the cost was estimated at Tk 8,487 crore, of which Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) was supposed to provide Tk 6,430 crore.
“The cost of the project will be more than Tk 1,000 crore less than what was estimated,” he added.
As per the contract, the Japanese firms started work in January 2016. The work, however, stopped for around four months after the Holey Artisan attack in July 2016.
The four contractors are Obayshi Corporation, Shimizu Corporation, JFE Engineer Corporation, and IHI Infra Systems Company Ltd.
The deadline for the work is December 2019 and everything, including restoration of the old bridges, will be completed within that time, said Nuruzzaman.