At least three hundred trucks with imported cargo risk lives and property while crossing the Dudhkumar river every day, using the British-era Sonahat Bridge, which was supposed to retire 19 years back, but construction of a replacement bridge still remains uncertain.
After Sonahat land port opened in 2012, traffic on the 366-meter-long iron bridge, in Bangasonahat union of Kurigram's Bhurungamari upazila, increased significantly.
The bridge poses considerable risk of collapse as it has weakened after it sustained damage during the Liberation War of 1971 and, following its repair, it has remained in service despite the expiration of its formal service life in 2001, said locals.
Roads and Highways Department (RHD) was supposed to start construction work of a new bridge -- 645 metres long and with a price tag of Tk 136.34-crore -- on the Dudhkumar in January 2019. But the locals said they were unaware of any development in this regard.
Shahjahan Ali, chairman of Bangasonahat Union Parishad, said a major accident could happen any time if the expired iron bridge collapses.
But the work on the new bridge has not yet started, although its schedule for completion was set for January 2021, he added.
Trader Raihan Kabir, whose business involves transporting goods from Sonahat land port, said it is getting increasingly difficult to convince truckers to drive their cargo-laden vehicles over the derelict bridge.
Asked whether the state of the bridge worries him, trucker Zakirul Islam said before driving his truck over the Sonahat Bridge, he makes sure to pray to the Almighty for protection from any accident.
Contacted, Yasin Arafat, sub-assistant engineer at RHD in Kurigram, said after their contractor's multiple attempts to install pilings in the riverbed failed, the RHD conducted a new soil test to redesign the superstructure of the new bridge.
He also said the work would resume as soon as the new design is approved.
Kurigram RHD Executive Engineer Ali Nurayen said the new design would get approval soon.