Padma Bridge a morale booster for local contractors

Bangladeshi companies now aspire to take bigger projects
With the Padma Multipurpose Bridge set to officially open to the public on June 25, the approach roads and expressways built by some local companies on both sides of the bridge will soon be bustling with activities. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Construction of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge has given a huge morale boost to local developers that were engaged in building approach roads and other facilities related to the Tk 30,200 crore bridge, which is the largest in Bangladesh.

While the main bridge has been constructed by China Major Bridge Engineering Co Ltd, several local companies, namely Abdul Monem Ltd (AML) and Property Development Ltd (PDL), had been engaged in building approach roads and 4-lane highways on both sides of the bridge.

The bridge, which will connect the southwest region to the rest of Bangladesh, is expected to spur economic growth in the country for increased connectivity and economic activities.

As the much-talked about 6.15-kilometre bridge is set to open to the public from June 25, constructors said completion of their tasks has given them courage and strength to take bigger challenges.

 "It is one of the biggest infrastructures of Bangladesh. It has given us exposure, confidence and moral courage that Bangladesh can do it. Being part of the project, this exposure gives us the courage to take bigger projects and challenges," said Mohiuddin Monem, additional managing director of AML, in a recent interview.

With manpower of more than 5,000, the 66-year old construction unit of AML was engaged in building many of the key infrastructures that include a number of challenging projects, such the 44-kilometre Khulna-Mongla highway which was constructed in 1984.

Building on that past experience, the company has been engaged in some of the biggest development projects, namely runway overlays for the Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, Osmani International Airport in Sylhet, and ongoing construction of the metro rail and airport flyover.

In case of the Padma Bridge Project, its initial journey was not that smooth.

When AML got the job, the project had been in a standstill situation because of the cancellation of a $1.2 billion credit from the World Bank for the bridge.

The activities gained momentum in July 2012 only after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to build the mega infrastructure with Bangladesh's own funds.

Yet it was not easy for AML to get financiers to help it provide performance guarantees to do the works involving Tk 1,700 crore as financial institutions were least interested to stand by the constructor.

 "This is because it was the last year of the then Awami League-led government and so, there was uncertainty whether the potentially new government would continue the project," said Monem.

 "There was a spillover effect on us. None was walking around the Padma Bridge. Eventually though, we managed to convince financial institutions to arrange performance guarantees on our behalf so that we could start work," he added.

 "We were determined. We went all the way to carry out the project because we thought it be would be a national pride and we wanted to be part of this."

Construction of the approach road was no less challenging as the infrastructure developer had to bring equipment from Germany to stabilise the soil before beginning construction after finding that conditions were not favourable.

 "We waited for one year for the soil to settle," Monem said, adding that the effort proved beneficial as the road provides a smooth ride.

But even after that, AML managed to complete its work within the deadline. Besides, the company finished construction with Tk 100 crore to spare from the estimated cost given by the authority.

To build the approach road for Padma Bridge, AML, used locally made materials, sans bitumen.  As such, local value addition would be 60-70 per cent, he said.

Having accomplished the tasks of making a portion of the highway and approach road to the bridge, AML boasts on its success on being a part of Padma Bridge.

"It is not anything but world class. You will experience when you will travel on the road," Monem said.

He also thanked Bangladesh Army for its support to the whole project.

PDL also has similar claim.

 "This is the highway where you will not feel any jerk during travel," said RN Paul, managing director of RFL Group, which has built 8.5 kilometres of roads in 32-kilometre 4-four lane highways from Postogola to Padma Bridge in Mawa.

PDL developed a half kilometre approach road on the Zajira and Shariatpur part of the bridge said apart from doing asphalt paving on the bridge, it has approach roads.

The total value of PDL's contract was Tk 800 crore.

"Usually, we would construct smaller roads. For this bigger work, we had to do a lot of R&D (research & development). Now we have proven that we can do quality works. This is going to be our big strength," he said, adding that the company had to do some works several times to ensure quality.

Paul said local companies have gained the experience of constructing expressways and involvement of homegrown constructors will reduce pressure on the foreign exchange.

"We have learned a lot regarding infrastructure development," Paul said.


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