The much-anticipated Padma Bridge is expected to open to traffic within June next year, as the complexity over some of the piers has been addressed.
“We hope vehicles will be able to use the bridge by the middle of 2020,” Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury, chairman of the government's panel of experts on Padma Bridge, told The Daily Star on Monday.
He, however, said the contractor would have to considerably speed up the work to meet the deadline.
Around 900metres of the bridge is now visible as the sixth span (superstructure) of the 6.15-km bridge was installed at Jazira point in Shariatpur on Wednesday.
The first span of the bridge was installed on September 30, 2017.
Once constructed, the bridge will directly connect the capital to 21 southern districts, through road and railways.
Two major components of the project are the main bridge and river training.
Seventy-three percent work of the main bridge and 50 percent work of river training have been completed, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said at a views-exchange meeting with the officials of the Bridge Division of his ministry on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Jamilur said the complexity over the design of some 14 piers was now over.
He said differences emerged between the information obtained through geotechnical investigation in the design phase and construction phase.
“The soil profiles were assumed in the design are slightly different from those during construction period,” he said, adding, “It was found in some places [that] the clay layer is located 62 metres above that assumed in the design.”
However, the matter for all the piers had been resolved.
Now the main difficulty was to take and install the spans on the piers, he said, adding it had been taking a month to install each of the spans, with three days taken only to take them to the pier.
“It would take many days if it takes one month for installing each span. So we asked them (contractor) to speed up the work,” he said.
“We even asked him (president of contractor firm) for additional mobilisation, if necessary, so that at least two spans can be installed in each month.”
He however, said there were difficulties -- decreased water level or strong currents -- in carrying the span from the dock and installing it on the pier.
On an optimistic note though, he said while it had taken eight weeks to take the first span of Jamuna Bridge to the pier, it took only six days to take the last span of the bridge.
“Because workers gradually master the work,” said Jamilur, who heads the local expert panel of Jamuna Bridge.
A bridge division official said the Chinese construction company last year sought to extend the deadline to the first half of 2021.
But the government asked them to complete the work within June 2020 and if needed, to mobilise more equipment, including additional barges.
“During meetings [with contractor firm] we said 2021 does not exist. We don't want to talk about going beyond 2020,” Jamilur said.
The government signed a deal with China Major Bridge Engineering Construction Company Ltd in June, 2014 for the construction of the bridge.
The work of the main bridge was supposed to be completed by December last year.
Afterwards, the planning ministry extended the deadline of the project to December 2019, a ministry official told The Daily Star.
“It is not necessary to take approval from ECNEC [Executive Committee of the National Economic Council] if the date has to be changed for the first time, without increasing expenditure,” he said wishing anonymity.
Before the extension of the deadline, the ministry took a report of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) into consideration, he said.
A team of IMED prepared the report after visiting the bridge site and evaluating other necessary documents. They recommended extending the deadline by one year.
It also recommended enhancing manpower and equipment to ensure round-the-clock work, suggesting the work to be done in more than one shift.
The project fell behind schedule after the World Bank withdrew its $1.2 billion loan in 2012 over allegations of corruption. The government denied the allegations and moved to build the bridge using its own funds.