Payra bridge to boost trade, tourism
The long awaited Payra bridge, which will facilitate road transport between a seaport and popular tourist destinations nearby, is finally nearing completion a good five years after its original due date.
As of December 2020, 106 oceangoing ships carrying various raw materials such as clinker and stone have arrived at Payra port since inception, generating a revenue of Tk 253 crore for the government.
But to carry these goods to other parts of the country, it would usually take a one hour ferry ride to cross the Payra river, costing importers both time and money.
Besides, the same can be said for people looking to travel to the country's southwestern regions, where popular tourist destinations such as Kuakata are located.
Once the 1.47-kilometre bridge is complete, people in Barishal city can travel to the Payra seaport and the Patuakhali district headquarters within an hour while it would take just about two hours to reach Kuakata.
The bridge is scheduled to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this month, according to project officials.
All relevant construction work on the bridge is complete and now only the beautification process remains, they said.
"The bridge will pay an integral role in developing the region's economic activities," said Saidur Rahman Rintu, president of the Barishal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The shipbuilding, garment, fish processing, and tourism industries will likely benefit the most, he added.
"Payra bridge will be like a gateway to the country' south that has been barred for far too long," said Motaleb Sharif, secretary of the Kuakata Hotel Motel Owners Association.
There are more than 150 hotels in the region that cater to about 10,000 people daily. During the pre-pandemic era, at least 15,000 tourists were visiting each year.
"And with the completion of Payra bridge, I think the number of visitors could easily double," he added. Abdur Rahim Khan, president of the Kuakata Hilsa Fish Suppliers Association, said they ship at least 15 to 20 tonnes of hilsa collected from Kuakata, Alipore and Mahipur all over the country every day.
But if the lengthy travel process is eased through the construction of Payra bridge, then the local fish industry would surely expand, Khan said.
Once Payra bridge is complete, it will help bring wholesale changes to the region's communication system and economy, according to Md Halim, the project director.
The project, being implemented by Chinese contractor Longjian Road and Bridge Construction, was initially set to be complete by April 2019 at a cost of about Tk 413 crore, around 33 months after work began on July 24, 2016.
However, the construction faced numerous delays while the ongoing pandemic only slowed the process further, he said.
As a result, the cost of the project, jointly funded by the Bangladesh government and Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, ballooned 250 per cent to hit 1,447 crore.
But with the project nearly complete, Halim expects to save Tk 52 crore of the total cost, bringing it down to Tk 1,395 crore.
It will be one of the biggest bridges in the country.
The completion date and project cost faced several revisions due to the unforeseen complications that arose during the construction process thanks to an improper feasibility study, said an official of the roads and highways division seeking anonymity.
Halim corroborated this statement by saying that since the Payra river was fast flowing, the depth of piling for the bridge foundations was increased to 130 metres.
"As such, repeated design changes delayed construction and raised costs," he said.
The bridge's tolls will range from Tk 9.40 to Tk 940 depending on the type of vehicle.
Although the project duration was extended twice till June 30 next year, the authorities concerned are working to open the bridge by this October, Halim added.
Saiful Hasan Badal, commissioner of Barishal division, said once both the Padma and Payra bridges were complete, the country's communication system would change radically.
At the same time, trade relations with southern districts will develop as well, he added.
Jyotirmoy Biswas, assistant professor of economics at Barishal University, said the two bridges would create huge employment opportunities in the region while reducing the transport cost and benefiting the tourism industry as well.