Thousands of people of Shariatpur's Naria upazila are being deprived of the benefits of the Padma Bridge.
They have to travel to the capital Dhaka by road via the sadar upazila, crossing 15 kilometres more, with the Dr Golam Mowla Bridge over the Kirtinasha River having been declared hazardous for traffic and remaining in that state for more than seven years.
People concerned said passenger buses from Dhaka stop at the western end of the dilapidated bridge, causing immense sufferings for them.
Traders at Naria Bazar used to transport various goods from across the country, including the capital, through this bridge. They are now compelled to use the long distance route, which takes more time and money, they said.
According to the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), the bridge was constructed over the Kirtinasha River in 1997-98 FY to facilitate road communication with the capital.
But only 17 years after the inauguration of the bridge, the government declared it hazardous as part of the connecting road and the soil beneath the pillar of the eastern end had collapsed.
Since then, traffic over the bridge has remained completely stopped and a bailey bridge has been constructed beside it for pedestrians only. Considering the risk, the authorities have also made barricades with iron columns at both ends of the bridge.
However, small vehicles still ply through the bridge, removing the barricades illegally and often causing severe accidents.
Meanwhile, LGED took an initiative to construct a new bridge on the site of the dangerous bridge to reduce public suffering. In 2017, the construction work of the 145-metre bridge began at a cost of Tk14.87 crore.
Although the project was supposed to have been completed in June 2019, the contractor company Navana Construction Limited could not complete the work in due time. It removed itself from the project after completing only 30% of the work. After that the authorities cancelled the project.
In 2021, the LGED again initiated the project with a new design and a new name – Bhasha Shainik Golam Mawla Ural Setu. The deadline of the Tk28.86 crore project is September 2024. The bridge will be 327 metres long and 9.8 metres wide. However, only 8% of the work has been completed so far.
Local people have said they have been suffering immensely due to the irresponsibility of both the authorities and the contractor company.
Ali Akbar Bepari, a businessman of Naria Bazar, said, "Our trucks now have to travel 20 km to 25 km more to bring goods as there is no bridge now. This has increased transport costs. Our customers who used to come from far away are also going other markets."
Md Hafiz Khan has to travel regularly from Dhaka to Shimultala in Naria Bazar. He said, "Our bus crosses the Padma Bridge in a very short time from Dhaka's Jatrabari. But the bus cannot not pass through the Naria Bridge. So, we have to cross the river on foot through the baily bridge."
Mustafa Bepari, a farmer from Moktarchar union, said, "I do not understand what is wrong with this bridge. We cannot reach the market on time with our products. As a result, we do not get a good price."
Although there is an upazila health complex in Naria, people from some unions cannot go there with vehicles.
Amiran Nessa said, "We cannot cross the bridge with an ambulance. As a result, patients with severe illnesses suffer."
No official of the contractor company was found in the project area for a comment on the progress of the construction works of the bridge.
Abu Zafar Sheikh, councilor of ward no-3, Naria municipality, told The Business Standard, "The contractors sometime leave the project area after doing some work and come back again. They say that the price of construction materials has increased so they are working a little slowly."
Md Shahabuddin Khan, engineer of LGED, Nariya upazila, said, "The construction work is ongoing. A slab of the bridge has already been cast. The arrangement of pile casting of the viaduct end is now going on. However, the progress of the work is very slow. We have urged the contractor company to complete the work within the stipulated time."