A new dawn for Bangladesh
There are some epic moments that make a nation proud.
For Bangladesh, one such occasion is about to unfold as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opens the Padma Multipurpose Bridge today.
The 6.15km bridge, which has already been hailed as a huge technological accomplishment over one of the most challenging rivers in the world, is far more than just a structure for the people of this county.
It is a pride of the nation, a testament to its own ability, and, more pressingly, an exemplary demonstration of the steely resolve of a foresighted statesman in Sheikh Hasina, who mobilised all the resources to fulfil the dream that many thought not possible after the international funders led by World Bank backed out from financing the billion-dollar mega project over a decade ago, citing corruption conspiracy.
Built at a cost of over Tk 30,000 crore, the double-decker rail-road bridge is the strongest possible statement of the country's bold journey to economic success from being dubbed a "basket case".
Considered an economic corridor, the dream bridge over the mighty Padma is expected to add around 1.2 percent to the country's GDP as it will connect 21 districts of the south-western region with the rest of the country.
Once fully operational, the bridge will hopefully revolutionise Bangladesh's communication and transport sector, cutting short both travel time and cost, giving a major boost to trade and other economic activities and thereby unlocking opportunities for over 30 million people living in the region.
"Our long-cherished dream is finally coming true. We have been waiting with bated breath for this moment for years … The bridge is not just a mega structure built with brick and steel; it is linked to our emotions," said Jaber Hasan, a private jobholder hailing from Khulna, one of the 21 south-western districts.
"Many of us could not go back to our roots whenever we wished because of the journey that is all too strenuous and perilous. Now, the sufferings on the way and travel time will be slashed immensely," he added.
Today, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will first take part in a rally at the Mawa end of the bridge around 10:00am. She will then inaugurate the bridge by unveiling a plaque there and will offer prayers.
The PM will travel across the bridge to the Zanjira end and unveil another plaque, before offering prayers.
The bridge will be opened to the public at 6:00am the following day.
The Bridges Division of the road transport and bridges ministry has taken all-out preparations to make the inauguration a success, while the ruling Awami League is organising the massive rally at the Zanjira end.
The much-hyped inauguration already created a frenzy of excitement among many as hundreds of people from across the country started to gather to see the glorious moment. However, members of the law enforcement agencies are not allowing anyone to go near the bridge for security reasons.
There has been a festive atmosphere at the Mawa end of the bridge in Munshiganj since the eve of the inauguration. The rally ground near Padma Bridge toll plaza is also ready where about 3,500 people are expected to be present. Various arches have been constructed there in the style of Padma Bridge.
Though the ongoing flood has dampened the spirit a bit, the inauguration will also be celebrated in 64 districts of the country simultaneously.
Centring on the inauguration, the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga expressway that connects to the Padma bridge has already been decked up in lights. Banners, posters and festoons are all around.
The entire Padma Bridge area is covered with a safety blanket with law enforcement agencies taking up massive security measures.
The government has already waived tolls of 17 bridges and one ferry for the day to facilitate people's arrival at the bridge.
An expert panel comprising teachers from Buet yesterday checked safety issues of connecting roads. Ferry and launch services on the Mawa-Shimulia routes have already been suspended on the occasion.
There were a myriad of physical and technical challenges in implementing the project -- from troubles over funding and complications over pile design to floods and Covid-19 pandemic.
Overcoming all obstacles, the project became a feat of engineering.
A bridge across the mighty Padma had been in talks since the mid '90s. The idea gained momentum in 1997 when the construction of Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna was nearing completion.
The pre-feasibility study of Padma bridge was conducted in 1998-99 while the feasibility study between 2003 and 2005.
Following further studies and exploring financing options, the government approved the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project worth Tk 10,161 crore on August 20, 2007 to be built with donor assistance.
On January 11, 2011, the Padma Bridge Project was revised with the estimated cost raised to Tk 20,507 crore, mainly to incorporate a rail line into the bridge.
The government concluded loan agreements with four development partners in early 2011 and an agreement for $1.2 billion was signed with the World Bank on April 28, 2011.
But the billion-dollar project became uncertain in September 2011, when the lead donor, the World Bank, suspended its promised $1.2 billion loans on an allegation of corruption conspiracy, which was later found to be untrue.
Then, in July 2012, the prime minister took a bold decision to go ahead with implementation of the project with the country's own funds. In December 2015, Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the main construction work of the most challenging engineering project of the country, having one of the deepest foundations in the world.
The first span was installed in September 2017. Then the work of installing the other 40 spans and 42 pillars went on one after another.
The project has been a huge engineering challenge as the mighty Padma carries a large volume of sediment, making its bed soft and tricky to build on. The major difficult part was the river training and piling because of the strong river currents and erosion.
The last span was installed on December 10, 2020, linking the two sides of the mighty river and making the bridge visible.
Last month, Roads and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader announced the date of inauguration.
On Wednesday, the contractor of the project handed over the bridge to the project authorities, making it fully prepared for inauguration.
"From now on, the agonies of crossing the mighty river by ferries, launches and speedboats is all set to end. Now I can go home anytime I want," said Ashutosh Baidda, a resident of Madaripur, a district in the region.
"For a Bangladeshi, it's a precious moment," he said.
Jul 4, 2001
PM laid foundation stone
Aug 20, 2007
Apr 28, 2011
Loan deal inked with WB
WB withdrew from financing
Own financing decision by PM
Nov 24, 2014
Physical works began
Dec 12, 2015
PM formally inaugurated works
Sep 30, 2017
First span installed
Dec 10, 2020
Last span installed
Jun 22, 2022
Handover of project by contractor