The wait is finally over! On June 25, a new brilliant dawn announced the arrival of a new day for Bangladesh across the turbulent waters of the mighty Padma River. In fact, a nation’s dream project has finally come to fruition with the opening of the 6.15-kilometre double-deck iconic bridge by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The door to the south has opened – the whole of Bangladesh is finally joined by road now. Written by MIR ARMAN FARUK and SM TANJIL-UL-HAQUE
A milestone for the country’s connectivity, the bridge is projected to allow hundreds of thousands of people living in the backward 21 coastal and south-western districts to enjoy quicker travel to and from the capital Dhaka and beyond. With the strict surveillance all around on the opening day, none was able to get rid of the wave of crowd as they gathered to the Padma Bridge area to see their dream come true! As the world’s 11th largest bridge has been opened to public now, the nation looks forward to the new possibilities to be ushered in for Bangladesh’s fast-growing economy. Freight and public transport movement through the two-tier bridge will see many of the current riverine ferries and other traditional modes of time-consuming transportation becoming redundant with buses and other modes of road transports offering new hopes and increased opportunities. Built at a cost of about Tk 301.93 billion, the bridge is expected to add 1.2 percent to 1.7 percent to Bangladesh’s GDP every year.
The catastrophic Padma River is the second largest river in Bangladesh, originating from the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas and flowing through India towards Bangladesh. It is said that the Padma River is only next to the Amazon River in terms of the force of water flow. Thus, it is not easy to make a bridge over Padma River. No government in Bangladesh was able to make Padma Bridge. Without a bridge, the people of south-western relied on typically delayed ferry services. Due to the lack of direct communication with the capital Dhaka, the development of the south-western part of the country seems to have stalled at the Mawa and Paturia ferry ports, where one must wait for hours for ferries. And so, the dream was to connect the capital Dhaka with the south-western part of the country, and the realisation of that dream began with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. On 25thJune 2022, Saturday that once impossible dream became a reality. With the inauguration of the Padma Bridge, which was planned two decades ago, one-third of the southern districts of the country are now connected by road to the capital Dhaka and the rest.
To connect the southwestern part of the country to the mainstream of development, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced on 8th July 2012, that the Padma Bridge would be built with our own funds. Responding to the call of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the people of the country gave their unwavering support to the construction of the desired Padma Bridge. The Padma Bridge now stands across the horizon as a reminder of the confluence of the two banks of the Padma, which has connected Jajira of Shariatpur with Mawa of Munshiganj. For the Padma Bridge Project, under the overall management of Bangladesh Bridges Authority, the Chinese company-MBEC has built the main bridge with a length of 6.15 km and a width of 22.5 m. The bridge, made of two layers of steel and concrete, has a 4-lane road at the upper level and a single broad-gauge railway at the lower level. The construction cost of this mega project finally stood at Tk 30,193 crore. These costs include construction of bridge infrastructure, river governance, land acquisition of road connecting bridges, rehabilitation etc. The total number of piles of Padma Bridge are 41 spans made of steel and concrete of 150 meters and their length is 294 m, road viaduct is 3.148 km and rail viaduct are 0.532 km.
From the very first day of construction of the Padma Bridge, construction supervision consultant (CSC) of Bangladesh Army was appointed to supervise the overall safety of Padma Bridge, link road and service area. Work on the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project was officially started in October 2013 through the work of connecting road and service area under the supervision of CSC, Bangladesh Army. The CSC is responsible for overseeing the construction of major bridges and providing overall security in river governance, construction of connecting roads between Mawa and Jajira, construction of state-of-the-art service areas and toll plazas for project implementation, land acquisition and rehabilitation. Acquisition of 917 hectares of land for the Padma Bridge project under the supervision of CSC, fair compensation to landowners by the district administration and relocation of residents of these areas to four rehabilitation centres have also been completed smoothly.
In addition, under the overall supervision of the 24thEngineering Construction Brigade of the Bangladesh Army, 54.7 km wide, the most scenic N-8 highway in Bangladesh, which stretches from Postagola to Mawa and from Jazira to Bhanga. Hon’ble Prime Minister formed 99 Composite Brigade of Bangladesh Army on 16thSeptember 2013 to ensure overall security of Padma Bridge. The 99 Composite Brigade, under the overall coordination with the Ministry of Bridges, is working under the Engineering Support and Safety Team of the Bangladesh Army to ensure the safety of all persons and assets currently engaged in the work of the Padma Bridge and to prevent sabotage.
By laying the first span of the Padma Bridge on 30th September 2016, the much-desired coveted Padma Bridge became visible and by erecting the last span on the 12th and 13th pillars of the bridge on 10th December 2020, the Padma Bridge was completed. The Padma Bridge has already given birth to many records in the field of architecture. Laying piles at a depth of 120 to 122 m in the ground is one of the records. No other bridge in the world has had piles penetrated so deep. The lifespan of the Padma Bridge, which is earthquake resistant up to 9 on the Richter scale, is estimated to be 100 years. The weight of each bearing between the pillars and the span of the Padma Bridge is about 10,500 metric tons. No other bridge in the world has ever used such a large bearing.After the launch of the Padma Bridge, travel time to Dhaka with 21 districts in the south-west region of the country will be reduced by 2 to 3 hours.
To wrap up, the 6.15 km long Padma Bridge is not just an infrastructure, it is a symbol of hope and aspiration of the nation. According to a survey conducted by various research institutes including the Bangladesh Bank, the poverty rate in the south-western part of the country will be reduced to around one percent after the launch of the Padma Bridge. The region’s GDP will grow by more than 3 percent. The country’s total GDP growth will be more than 1.23 percent. A new development revolution will take place in the south-western part of the country through the connection of internet, electricity, gas, and rail to the Padma Bridge. The Padma Bridge is going to be a new epic of development, the golden Bangladesh of Bangabandhu’s dream will be written anew with the country’s most iconic Padma Bridge.
SCENES OF SELFIE, JUBILATION, CHEERS ALL AROUND
The dream of Bangladesh is standing with its head-high on the chest of the devastating, devouring Padma River. Millions of people from all over the country have flocked to see their dream come true, an attempt to touch the vision that has been nurtured in the depths of the mind. Their dream got fulfilled with the inauguration of the Padma Bridge by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the eventful June 25. The long wait of the people of south-western Bangladesh came to an end with various colourful events when the landmark bridge was finally open to the public.
The sky above the Padma was coloured with the insignia of festivals, joy and cheers around. A long-cherished dream,which will connect the whole country by road. No more loss of lives due to the ferry delay. Thus, People from all walks of life started arriving at both sides of the bridge since June 24 night in order to experience and become a part the historic moment of Padma Bridge’s inauguration. The crowd from Mawa side went into delights as they were rejoiced to the ecstatic start of the iconic bridge soon after its opening to traffic. “We must go today even if we have to walk miles, otherwise we won’t get the opportunity to walk to the bridge,” said a youth in jubilation while calling others and rushing to the bridge.
Within half an hour after the PM reached the venue to inaugurate the world’s 122nd largest bridge, enthusiasts started walking finding comparatively relaxed security checks in the area. People, young and old, seized this chance to see the bridge first-hand. After a long dramatic and breath-taking wait, the Padma Bridge of Bengalis’ dreams, emotions and self-dignity was officially inaugurated in the beautiful morning of 25thJune by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. After attending the citizen gathering, the premier unveiled a plague and a mural portraying the face of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She then crossed the bridge after paying toll at the toll plaza. The glimpses of joy touched the Prime Minister as she took selfie with her daughter Saima Wazed Putul on the bridge. The Premier then reached Jajira side and addressed a gathering with thousands of south-westerners.
To the people gathered, the 1.45-kilometre approach road on Mawa site was no matter to walk to see the 6.15-kilometre bridge over the mighty Padma. However, at one stage, security personnel forced the crowd to return through Mawa point. Even if one had not left the capital on this day, it would still be hard to not know that celebration was in the air on the day. By 6 am in the morning, numerous processions had already begun in small groups. Hundreds of people could be seen at Postagola walking towards the much-awaited bridge some 40 kilometres away, braving the heat and paying little heed to the distance fuelled by passion, they vowed to reach the bridge.
“I don’t know how far I can go, but I will try my best. This is our bridge. This is our dream,” Aziz Mollah, a businessman from Old Dhaka said. He was not the only one with delight shining on his face. Aminul Islam, a businessman, said he was here to be a part of the history. Meanwhile, Sheuly Begum, a housewife, along with a few other local women, had come to see the inauguration ceremony. “We came because such a huge event is happening in our area. We are enjoying ourselves. We hope to get closer to the Padma Bridge soon.”
In Madaripur area, the same ardent passion was displayed by thousands who had gathered at a rally addressed by the PM. “I did not go to work today so that I could join this rally. Because, we know that our Prime Minister has constructed the Padma Bridge for us, our dream come true” said AlamKazi, a farmer. Among the many notable faces at the event was famed actor and road safety activist Ilias Kanchon. “This is much more than a dream. Something really big has happened,” he said. Furthermore, trucks with party activists appeared blaring music and declared Padma Bridge a victory for the country.
The Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga expressway, officially known as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Highway, was also decorated with festoons, banners and large posters. The polished 55-kilometre expressway looked like it had been given a fresh coat of paint. It was also largely empty, mirages forming on the asphalt, as most vehicles without a pass had been restricted from travelling on it.
The celebrations were not restricted to the ground. Overhead, a total of 31 aircraft and helicopters of the Bangladesh Air Force put up a spectacular show, performing aerobatics, conjuring rainbows over the Padma with colourful smokes and flying the national flag. 80 red and green boats dotted the Padma River, waiting to welcome the Prime Minister.
The main venue, where Sheikh Hasina gave her speech, was designed to look like the Padma Bridge. It had space to accommodate around 3,000 people. But beyond the tapestry of celebrations, it was the people and their aspirations which stood out the most.
Elsewhere, among the thousands of jubilant faces were two brothers, Rafique and Idris. The duo had come all the way from Chattogram, arriving late last night. “We heard the prime minister was coming to inaugurate the bridge so we came. This bridge isn’t only for cars; there will be gas pipes and even rail tracks. The people of this side will be benefited from that. The whole of Bangladesh is proud today,” Rafique said. “We never imagined this would happen even in 200 years. But God gave Sheikh Hasina the intelligence and dedication. They said she couldn’t do it, but she is her father’s daughter after all, and she has shown the world what we are capable of,” he added.
“We northerners have lost much because of the Padma River. My cousin died because it took us so long to get a ferry after he got into an accident and needed immediate care in Dhaka. But today, we celebrate. Because, now we can reach Dhaka in the shortest time,” Abdul QuaderHowalader, a resident of Madaripur, said. This was a common cause for celebration on both sides of the Padma.Nasir, a sanitation worker, said, “This Bridge will be a saviour for us. I have seen many people die at the ferry port, even one of my relatives. We hope this won’t happen anymore.”
To end, after the Premier became the first person to both pay the bridge toll and then cruise down its road, thousands others tried to follow on foot. They progressed, undaunted by any rules. This was their Golden Bridge. And like its counterpart in San Francisco had become a symbol of the power and progress of the United State, the Padma Bridge is considered a similar symbol for Bangladesh. The Padma Bridge is a symbol of Bangladesh’s economic potential, Bangladesh’s technical ability. So far, the rich countries have amazed the world by building huge bridges, tunnels and dams. This time, we have shown our superiority and ability. The Padma Bridge has sent a message to the world what Bangladesh can do on its own.