We are bewildered to learn that the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) only has data on the state of 67 bridges out of the 18,000 nationwide. What this tells us is that RHD offices in the field are simply not responding to repeated requests for information from the head office. In the absence of detailed data on the state of bridges, precisely how is RHD going to be able to make recommendations for repairs and maintenance? What we do know is that there are 4,404 bridges, including 856 Bailey bridges and 14,814 culverts. The international cooperation agency JICA, which helped fund and develop a new software called Bridge Management Software (BMS), has actually been pressing RHD to make it effective.
That software would give RHD real-time information for proper planning regarding which bridges and culverts need repair. Officials tell us that putting the BMS into operation is a time-consuming affair. What they do not tell us is that having this software in operation would allow the department to make much more judicious decisions that would ultimately result in better bridge maintenance and save public money. The software was developed at a cost of Tk 31 crore and once the data is collected and stored in the database, RHD officials will have access to detailed information about the “structural health” of infrastructure, which would lead to prolonging their lifespan, since timely repairs will be possible.
It is time for this dilly dallying to stop. In the meanwhile, RHD should draw up a priority list of bridges and culverts that need to be repaired on urgent basis for avoiding traffic mishaps and loss of life. The astronomical figures being demanded from annual budgets for road maintenance are based on “best guess” scenarios and that is precisely why BMS was designed to preclude.