When it opens in 2018, the much-expected Padma Bridge will shorten travel time between the capital and the southern region, giving a major boost to trade and economic activities in the country, say experts.
About a quarter of the country's population living in the southwest region will directly benefit from the 6.15-kilometre bridge as the travel time to and from Dhaka city will be cut short to about one-fourth of what it is now.
Currently it takes about 13 hours on average for a trip from the capital to Khulna via Mawa ferry ghat. This time will be just about three and a half hours, once the bridge is opened to traffic, say experts involved in the country's largest infrastructure project.
People of Bagerhat, Barisal, Jessore and other districts in the South will also benefit from the shorter travel time, they say.
More than half the vehicles that take the Paturia-Daulatdia road will use the bridge to save time and fuel.
The southern region that sees natural disasters and salinity problems will have more investment in different areas, including fisheries and agro-farms. There will be more jobs as well, according to experts.
Today, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to inaugurate work on the main bridge. Bangladesh government is funding the Tk 28,793 crore project. The government decided to build the bridge with its own funds after the donors, including the World Bank, suspended their pledged assistance over allegations of corruption.
According to various assessments, the Economic Internal Rate of Return (EIRR) of the bridge is estimated at 19 percent while the standard rate is 12 percent.
The EIRR measures the profitability of investments. The rate is assessed by accumulating benefits of travel time and savings in fuel, utility connections, productivity gains, increase in traffic volume, freight service and employment generation.
The southwest region that covers nearly 27 percent area of the country will annually see a further 1.7 percent GDP growth and the country another 0.56 percent growth when the bridge comes into operation, according to a 2010 joint study of the World Bank and Bangladesh government.
$6 BILLION NEEDED FOR INFRASTRUCTURE
The study recommended investing $6 billion under a comprehensive programme to develop related infrastructure to get full benefits of the bridge.
Analysts, however, say related rail and road network needs to be built on both sides of the Padma for the best use of the bridge.
The rail network linking the bridge with the capital through Mawa will not be complete when the bridge opens to traffic in December 2018, Bangladesh Railway officials say.
Besides, overall progress has been slow in several projects taken to improve existing rail tracks in the southwest region. Building of new railroads linking the Mongla Port to Barisal is also lagging behind.
The Road Transport and Bridges Ministry is working to expand several highways including the Dhaka-Mawa road into four-lane highways, but these projects are going on at a slow pace.
Asked, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said, “Our next priority is to develop infrastructure on both sides so that people can get maximum benefit of the bridge.”
Talking to The Daily Star, transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque said, “The government must build several ring roads around the capital to allow vehicles from northern, western and eastern regions to travel through the bridge, avoiding the city's perennial traffic congestion.”
“Vehicles travelling from the bridge to Chittagong, Sylhet or Mymensingh will face long tailbacks if related infrastructure is not developed,” said Hoque, a teacher at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
For example, he said a truck from Mymensingh now enters the capital at night since trucks are not allowed to enter the city at daytime. But if there is a ring road around the capital, the vehicle could take Mawa road any time bypassing the city.
The government should alter its plan to set up rail tracks from the Padma Bridge to Gendaria in the capital, said Hoque who is involved in a number of infrastructure development projects.
Instead of getting connected with Gendaria, the railroad from the bridge should be linked with Narayanganj which will merge with the rail network at Laksam.
“If this happens, it will not only establish a direct link between Mongla and Chittagong port but also reduce the Dhaka-Chittagong train link distance by 99 kilometres,” he said.
Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, who is involved in the Padma Bridge project from the beginning, said even after the bridge is open to traffic, the country will have to wait for a few years to get its full benefit because related infrastructure is not there.
“Everything is in the government plan but the authorities have been slow in implementing it.”
He said Japan already expressed its willingness to construct several ring roads around the capital while China is interested to help construct new rail tracks.
“The government should act quickly,” said Jamilur Reza who was also involved in Jamuna Bridge project.
Zaid Bakht, former research director at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said the Padma Bridge would offer more benefits than the Bangabandhu Bridge.
“Following the opening of Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna in 1998, industries were set up, food production increased and employment was generated in the country's northern region. It helped reduce monga, a seasonal food crisis, there.”
He also suggested investing on related infrastructures for getting the full benefits of the bridge.
“Vehicles coming from Mawa should have the option to take Chittagong road bypassing the city,” the economist told The Daily Star.
The 2010 joint report says Mongla Port, the country's second largest seaport, can now utilise only 20 percent of its capacity and one of the key reasons for the low use is the absence of a bridge.
The capital is 170 km from Mongla and 264 km from Chittagong. But the travel time from Dhaka to Mongla is longer than that of the capital and the port city.
Padma Bridge will reduce the travel time, increase Mongla port's capacity and ease pressure on the Chittagong port, says the study.
Experts suggested that the government develop infrastructure of Mongla Port and increase its capacity to get full benefits of the Padma Bridge.