Much-cherished Padma Bridge is about to open to traffic. Is Dhaka prepared for extra pressure on its roads?

The Padma Bridge will create a network of ambitious, surface transport links to connect the booming economy of Dhaka and Chattogram with the impoverished southwest of Bangladesh. The longest bridge in the country is about to open to traffic, but is capital Dhaka's road network ready to cope with the heavy pressure from both directions?

Kazi Mobarak Hossain Staff
Published : 24 June 2022, 04:31 AM
Updated : 24 June 2022, 04:31 AM

The vehicles bound for south and southwest take ferries on Shimulia-Banglabazar and Paturia-Doulatdia river routes. They will be crossing the Padma through the bridge after its inauguration on Saturday, with the travel time expected to decrease by 4-6 hours, or even a day in some cases.

The Padma Bridge will be having a large number of cargo transports from western India as well, bound for the western part of the country. According to Asian Development Bank’s estimate, initially, 24,000 vehicles will cross the bridge every day. And the number will only rise over time.

Transports going from the northern districts or the Mymensingh division to the south and southwest directly by road will have to cross Dhaka first to reach the bridge. They will not be able to bypass the capital on the return trip either.

Vehicles travelling to Chattogram and Sylhet go through Jatrabari in Dhaka. Therefore, the entire pressure will be on Dhaka.

Until now, ferries were used to cross the river Padma which required extra time and prevented too many vehicles from entering Dhaka at a time.

Once the bridge is open, transports from the southern part of Bangladesh will reach Dhaka quickly and use the capital's road network to travel to other districts after they get off the bridge. Similarly, vehicles from other districts will pass over Dhaka to reach the Padma Bridge.

This will cause traffic jams at the access points to Dhaka, especially at the Babu Bazar Bridge, Jatrabari, Mayor Hanif Flyover, the road to Narayanganj from Munshiganj, and from Postogola to Narayanganj.

While Dhaka has been suffering from unbearable traffic congestion almost daily, how will the additional transports make it to the Padma Bridge after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates it on Saturday?

The government said it is adopting alternative measures ‘as per its capacity’ to reduce the traffic load on the roads which will be visible soon.

In 2004, the government drafted a mega plan to end traffic congestion in Dhaka. The revised plan in 2015 also recommended building roads circling Dhaka for vehicles to bypass the city without having to travel through it.

The Roads and Highways Department started a feasibility study for the circular road in 2015 and it ended in December 2020. But the project has not taken off.

The implementation of the project could have created an alternative route for transport to and from the northern and southern districts to avoid the Dhaka roads.

It will take a long time to implement the entire project, said AKM Monir Hossain Pathan, chief engineer of the Roads and Highways Department. As the Padma Bridge is going to be inaugurated on Jun 25, the authorities took intermediate measures prioritising the traffic with whatever funds they had, he said.

 "You'll get to know about it," he said when asked about the alternative measures.

Dhaka Metropolitan Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Munibur Rahman could not provide any information on the plan to manage the additional traffic flow once the Padma Bridge opens.

"The government designed some separate projects to work as a diversion but these have not been executed. They must make a plan for a separate ring road, diversion road and a plan to ensure the vehicles getting off the Padma Bridge do not need to enter Dhaka. Police will do their job. Currently, we're performing our duties on the existing roads," he said, expressing hope that the experts will come up with effective ideas.

Prof Hadiuzzaman, a transport expert at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said an inner circular route was the priority in the government plan. It mentioned eight radial roads, including the Dhaka-Mawa Expressway.

“The expressway has been constructed as a forward link to the Padma Bridge. But the inner circular road, which should be the backward link, has yet to be built."

Currently, vehicles are using ferries to cross the Padma and entering Dhaka in phases, said Hadiuzzaman. "Now, the vehicles will come into the capital faster and also in larger numbers. They will try to leave Dhaka in a similar way, doubling the pressure on the traffic system."

He suggested the 12-kilometre part of the inner circular route stretching from Gabtoli to Keraniganj via Swarighat be built immediately. "The government should construct it with its funds if there's no foreign financing available. This is very important."

Professor Shamsul Haque of BUET does not think Dhaka's infrastructure, already burdened with heavy traffic, can bear any additional pressure.

"The time it takes to cross the Padma River by ferries will now be spent in Dhaka. Just two days ago, I was stuck on a flyover for 40 to 45 minutes. The city doesn't have the capacity to let the new traffic flow smoothly,” he said.

The professor of civil engineering warned that the benefits of the Padma Bridge will diminish if the authorities fail to manage the chaotic traffic jams in Dhaka, impacting the outcome of the structure on the country's economy.

Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, however, is not ready to think about anything other than the achievements to be made through the Padma Bridge as the government prepares for the celebration of its opening. The focus should be on the benefits of the Padma Bridge instead of the possible problems, he said.

"A huge bridge is going to be inaugurated. It's a dream come true and will bring benefits to everyone. Many vehicles will enter and exit Dhaka putting pressure on the traffic system, but we've plans to combat it. And we're moving forward according to our plans."

[Writing in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed]