The first span of the once-controversial Padma Bridge linking the north and south of Bangladesh is now in place. The bridge’s now-very visible rush to completion shows the promise in the country’s economic future.
The Padma Bridge will connect the relatively poor agricultural districts of Shariatpur and Madaripur to the more affluent, urbanized regions of Munshigani next to Dhaka, the capital. At nearly four miles, the bridge will be the longest in the Padma-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin. It will ease pressure on the country’s leading seaport in Chittagong, 150 miles southeast of Dhaka, by directly linking the capital and the Mongla Port, the country’s second busiest seaport, which is 182 miles to Dhaka’s southwest.
The bridge will cost as much as $3.5 billion and will be paid for entirely by the government of Bangladesh. It is the first and highest-profile of several infrastructure projects that the government plans to fund and complete over the next several years.
The Padma Bridge, which will be finished next November, will be the country’s inaugural fixed-river bridge and will accommodate both road and rail traffic. The steel truss will have two levels; a four-lane highway will be on the upper level and a single-track railway will be on the lower level. The bridge will also carry high-pressure gas transmission lines and fiberoptic communication cables. It is the very embodiment of Bangladesh’s determination to construct all manner of modern connectivity.
By connecting the southwest region of Bangladesh with the northern and eastern regions, the Padma Bridge will do much to tie together the sprawling nation of 163 million people. It will reduce the drive from economically prosperous Dhaka to the still-developing southwest by more than 60 miles. This will dramatically cut the cost and time associated with the transportation of goods and people between the regions.
Farmers will be able to get their products to market in Dhaka in less than two hours, a trip that currently takes a full day from many major farms. Roughly 30 million people will be directly affected by the Padma Bridge and many of those will be lifted out of poverty because of the opportunities it will create.
The bridge will also increase trade in South Asia among Bangladesh’s neighbors Bhutan, India and Nepal. To accelerate this progress, the government plans to construct a high-tech park in Shariatpur and an airport in neighboring Bagerhat near Dhaka. These developments will increase not only person-to-person contacts, but will also promote high-tech investment, which already has been surging in Bangladesh. Economists have estimated that the bridge, when operating, will add 1.6 percentage points to the annual Gross Domestic Product of Bangladesh.
Not long ago there were serious doubts about whether the bridge would ever be built. International lenders including the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank expressed enthusiasm about the project. But that faded, forcing Bangladesh to finance the project itself.
The World Bank claimed to have uncovered a massive web of corruption connected to the project and decided to withdraw its funding. Other international lenders quickly followed. But their actions were too hasty. A Canadian court recently found no evidence of corruption in the project and dismissed all claims. The court stated that evidence of corruption was based on nothing more than “gossip and rumour.”
In the end, the citizens of Bangladesh will get the bridge they need and deserve. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladeshi government have long recognized the economic and cultural importance of the Padma Bridge and were never going to abandon the project, certainly not for lack of foreign funding. As the prime minister said: “We have set a brilliant example to the world by constructing this massive bridge on such a large river with a strong current. … We, the Bengali nation, fought and liberated the country. We can do whatever we want if we have the true will and determination.”
The Padma Bridge is a symbol of a promising future for a country that was founded with so little just 46 years ago.