Padma Bridge: A leap for Asian connectivity
This is a dream bridge which will not only establish the long-awaited direct road and rail communications between the capital and south-western parts of Bangladesh but also contribute to greater connectivity and trade among Asian countries.
The Padma Bridge will have significant economic impacts by cutting the travel time as well as freight costs, and thus bring prosperity for 21 districts in particular and the nation in general.
It will also work as a key component of the Asian Highway-1, boosting economic growth of Asia and improving the country's standing in the continent.
In August 2009, Bangladesh joined the network conceived by the United Nations with a view to setting up regional connectivity among Asian countries via a highway system of over 145,000km roads passing through 32 countries.
Bangladesh is connected with three Asian Highway routes named AH-1, AH-2 and AH-41 with a total length of 1,771km.
The AH-1, connecting Assam with West Bengal of India via Sylhet-Dhaka-Narail-Jashore, had two missing links: one is the Padma Bridge and another Kalna Bridge in Narail.
Of the two, the 690m bridge construction in Kalna was comparatively easier, but the 6.150km bridge over the mighty Padma was always a massive task in terms of the magnitude of the work.
With the opening of Padma Bridge tomorrow and Kalna Bridge's expected inauguration by September, those two missing links will disappear.
The Padma Bridge, longest in Bangladesh, will also pave the way for putting in place a new route for the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) network, another UN initiative aimed at creating an integrated railway network across Asia.
It would be the fourth and the shortest TAR route, which would link India and Myanmar via the country and ultimately become a part of a network comprising 125,500km of railway lines serving 28 countries.
Apart from contributing to poverty reduction for the south-western region, the opening of Padma Bridge will help turn Kuakata into a major tourist destination.
The nation will also be able to make the most of Mongla port and under-construction Payra seaport, taking the burden off the Chattogram port, which often struggles to serve the fast-growing economy owing to inadequate facilities.
AH-1 & PADMA BRIDGE
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) conceived the Asian Highway project and adopted an Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network in November 2003.
The aim was to establish regional cooperation among the mainland countries of Asia, based on road transport linkages, according to the Road Transport and Highway Division's documents.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the accession of Bangladesh to the Asian Highway network on June 15, 2009. The government signed the Instrument of Accession on July 5 the same year.
The route of AH-1 is Guwahati in Assam-Tamabil-Sylhet-Shaistaganj- Narsingdi-Kanchpur-Dhaka-Mawa-Charjanajat-Bhanga-Bhatiapara-Kalna Ferry Ghat-Narail-Jashore-Benapole-Petrapole in West Bengal. Its length is 492km.
The route of AH-2 is Guwahati-Tamabil-Sylhet-Narsingdi-Dhaka South (Jatrabari)-Dhaka North (Banani Rail Crossing)-Joydevpur-Elenga-Hatikamrul-Bogra-Rangpur-Panchagarh-Banglabandha-Fulbari in West Bengal. Its length is 517km, excluding the 294km common part of AH-1 and AH-2.
The route of AH-41 -- Teknaf-Cox's Bazar-Feni-Moinamoti-Dhaka-Joydevpur-Hatikamrul-Banpara-Dasuria-Kushtia-Jhenaidah-Jashore-Khulna-Mongla -- is limited within the country for now. Its length is 762km, excluding the 162km common part of AH2 and AH-41.
"With the opening of Padma Bridge and Kalna Bridge by September, there would be no missing links and thus an uninterrupted connectivity would be established [on AH-1 route], which is a significant development," Shishir Kanti Routh, an additional chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department (RHD).
The most portion of the AH-1 route is two-lane and also it has four-lane stretches in urban areas and market places.
The RHD is implementing two projects involving Tk 20,500 crore to turn Kanchpur-Sylhet and Sylhet-Tamabil portions into four-lane keeping two additional lanes for slow-moving vehicles.
The physical work of the projects is expected to start this year.
Of the route, the portion from Kanchpur to Dhaka is now an eight-lane highway and Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga a four-lane expressway.
The RHD is going to take up a project to turn the 135km road from Bhanga to Benapole via Kalna, Narail and Jashore into a four-lane highway with Indian lines of credit.
Meanwhile, the department has almost completed construction of the 690m bridge over the Madhumati river at Kalna point with a cost of Tk 959 crore.
"Once all the projects are completed, the entire AH-1 route would be elevated to either primary [access-controlled motorway] or Class-I (four or more lanes highway)," said Shishir Kanti, also a member of RHD's Thematic Group on Regional Connectivity.
NEW TAR ROUTE
The TAR network is aimed at enhancing the efficiency and development of the railway infrastructure in Asia, according to the UNESCAP website.
An intergovernmental agreement on the TAR network was adopted in April 2006. Signed by Bangladesh in 2007, it came into force in June 2009.
At the beginning, three routes of TAR had passed through Bangladesh.
The route of TAR-1 is Gede in West Bengal-Darshana-Ishwardi-Bangabandhu Bridge-Joydevepur-Tongi-Akhaura-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar-Ghundhum-Myanmar.
It has two sub-routes -- Tongi-Dhaka and Akhaura-Kulaura-Shahbazpur-Mahisasan of India.
The route of TAR-2 runs through Singabad in West Bengal-Rohanpur-Abdulpur-Ishwardi to meet TAR-1.
The route of TAR-3 runs through Radhikapur in West Bengal-Birol-Dinajpur-Parbatipur-Abdulpur to meet TAR-1.
With the building of a double-decker bridge -- roadway on the top and railway on the bottom -- over the Padma river, the country enters a new era of railway connectivity.
Bangladesh Railway has already undertaken a project titled "Padma Bridge Rail Link Project (PBRLP)" to connect the capital and Jashore with a 169km rail line via the Padma Bridge at the cost of Tk 39,246 crore.
And, following BR's request, UNESCAP agreed to incorporate the Dhaka-Bhanga-Jashore track as a fourth route of the TAR network in Bangladesh.
The route would run through Petrapole-Benapole-Jashore-Narail-Bhanga-Mawa-Narayanganj-Dhaka-Tongi before meeting TAR-1.
Transport expert Prof Hadiuzzaman said the Padma Bridge has opened a new route for Trans Asian Railway, through which the railway would be connected with a big network.
"This will open a new window for Bangladesh Railway," he told this correspondent recently, adding that the BR has to do a lot of things, including gauge conversions, to establish effective connectivity with TAR.