Padma Multipurpose Bridge is the most prioritized fast track project among the ongoing mega projects in Bangladesh. This project will be the most significant infrastructure that will help with the socio-economic development of millions of people in the south-western part of the country. The Padma Multipurpose Bridge is ranked 122nd among other longest bridges globally, with pillars having a diameter of 3 meters in radius and pilling being 128 meters deep, which is the deepest piling in the world. The bridge’s construction started in 2014, and the last span of the 6.15 km long bridge was laid in December 2021 and is expected to be inaugurated for traffic by June 2022. The cost of this self-financed mega project in the country has been estimated at BDT 30,193.39 crore. By November 2021, 89 percent of the project had been completed. With the completion of the mega project, the GDP growth of the south-western part of the country will increase by 2.5 percent, while the country’s overall GDP growth will increase by 1.23 percent per annum. The Padma Multipurpose Bridge is a two-level steel truss bridge with a four-lane highway on the upper level and a single-track railway on the lower level, which will connect to The Padma Rail Link project. The Padma Rail Link project is expected to transform Bangladesh into a sub-route of the Trans-Asian Railway Network and contribute about 1 percent to the country’s GDP growth.
Overview of Padma Bridge
The Pre-Feasibility Study of the Padma Multi-purpose Bridge Project, the most important mega project of the Government of Bangladesh, was done from 1996 to 1999. According to a source in the Bangladesh Bridge Authority, the Japanese company JICA finalized the study between 2003 and 2005. Later on, between 2009 and 2011, the US, New Zealand, and Australia-based consultant organization Monsell-Ecom concluded the design of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. However, when there was a crisis over the bridge’s funding, the Bangladesh government announced the construction of the Padma bridge with its own fund in 2013. In 2014, a deal to construct the main bridge was struck with China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Ltd., and Sinohydro Corporation Limited got the contract for river training work. The construction began in December of that year. The main bridge structure was being erected on 42 pillars with the help of 41 spans, spanning 150 meters that are expected to withstand earthquakes of magnitude nine on the Richter scale. Besides the four-lane road link at the top and a single line rail link at the bottom, the bridge will also take gas, electricity, and broadband internet through fiber optical cable to the country’s south-west. The bridge’s total length, including the main bridge and viaduct, is more than 9 kilometers.
In addition to the construction of more than 12 km of approach road for the main bridge, the project will acquire 1471 hectares of land on either side of the bridge and about 14 km of river training. Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) oversees the overall work, including main bridge, river training, approach road on both sides, service area, and land acquisition. Initially, the Padma Bridge megaproject cost was estimated at BDT 10,161 crore in 2006 and BDT 20,506 crore in 2011, which later increased to BDT 30,793 crore. According to the Bangladesh Bridge Authority, more than 95 percent of the project’s main bridge has been completed by November 2021, and the work is expected to be completed by June 2022. In addition, a total of 212.05 km of the new railway line is being constructed for the Padma Bridge with the sponsorship of the Bangladesh Railway Ministry, which will connect Dhaka with the country’s largest land port, Jessore. The Chinese government will provide 85 percent of the financing of the 40,000 Crore project through China Exim Bank, and the Bangladesh government will provide the rest. Although several mega projects, like the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, are financially much larger than the Padma Bridge project, however the socio-economic, historical, and geopolitical significance of the Padma is far greater than others.
Impact of Padma Bridge
According to Zahid Hossain, lead economist at the World Bank, with the opening of road and rail traffic to the Padma Bridge, people in the country’s south-west will begin to benefit from the bridge immediately. By road, the distance between Dhaka and most of the south-western districts will be reduced to at least 100 km. In addition to reducing the time and cost of transporting passengers and goods, vehicle maintenance and fuel costs will be much lower. As a result, people from all sectors, including business and agriculture, will benefit, impacting the country’s GDP.
Communication & Transportation Benefits
According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 27% of the total population of Bangladesh lives in the south-west. The Padma river is a considerable obstacle while transporting anything from Bangladesh’s Barisal and Khulna to Dhaka. According to a BBC source, the existing roads have been further developed in addition to the construction of expressways on both sides of the Padma Bridge at the cost of BDT 11,000 crore. As a result, if the bridge is opened, the transportation there will increase more than 20 times. According to an ADB source, the Padma Bridge will carry an average of 24,000 vehicles per day in 2024 and 67,000 by 2050. In addition, the Padma Bridge will reduce the distance from Mongla Port to Dhaka by more than 100 km to only 170 km, whereas the current distance between Chittagong Port and Dhaka is about 264 km. As a result of the Padma Bridge, the distance between Dhaka’s Mongla seaport and Chittagong port will be reduced. Increasing the importance of the Mongla port in the transportation of goods and facilitating communication between Dhaka and the south will save a lot of working hours, which will further accelerate the growth of the country’s economy. In addition, according to ADB, the long-term (31 years) road user benefit of the Padma Bridge in the traffic model stood at 18.512 billion dollars, and according to the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM), the total project benefit was estimated at $25 billion (24.993) at the same time.
Trading across the country is likely to be further boosted after the opening of the Padma Bridge. Experts estimate an industrial revolution in 21 districts in the southwest, especially within a year of the double-decker bridge’s launch. It takes at least 2 to 3 days for a freight truck to travel from Barisal or Khulna to Dhaka or from Dhaka to these areas. After the bridge’s opening, this time will be reduced to a maximum of one day, which will increase the trading of the regions by several times. Also, according to a source in the Daily Star, once the Padma Bridge Rail Link project is completed, the distance from Dhaka to Kolkata via Jessore will be reduced to half, and it will take only 3 to 4 hours, which will also boost the country’s international trading. As a result, Bangladesh could become an important corridor in international trading. According to a report by the Khulna Chamber of Commerce, the region will play a groundbreaking role in regional connectivity in South Asia and connect Dhaka with Mongla and Payra ports once the Padma Bridge is launched. At present, more than 90 percent of the country’s international trade is done through the Chittagong Port. In 2021, the trade volume of this port was about 90 billion dollars. Initially, the port of Chittagong could handle 2 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) containers per year, but in 2021 it increased to more than 3.2 million TEU.
However, Until December 2021, less than 20(19,224) thousand containers were handled from Mongla, which is even less in the case of Payra port. In addition, after the launch of the bridge, besides easy commute, it will also reduce the cost of gas, electricity, and internet services, which will expand the existing trade in the region.
Regional Industrial Revolution
The Padma Bridge will significantly improve the economy of the country’s south-west region, an evident proof of which is the Bangabandhu Bridge, around which an industrial revolution has taken place in North Bengal. The changes in the economy of North Bengal as a result of this bridge have contributed about 2% to the GDP growth of Bangladesh. Such contribution has also been estimated in the case of Padma Bridge. According to many experts, the Padma Bridge’s contribution will be more than the Jamuna. Experts believe that many small and big industries will be growing in the south-western part of the country along the Padma Bridge route, including manufacturing businesses, RMG, assembling plants, storage facilities. According to ADB estimates, the direct investment made around this bridge will boost the regional economy. According to JICA estimates, a 10 percent reduction in travel time from Dhaka would increase the district economy to 5.5 percent, which would increase the region’s annual GDP growth by 1.7 percent. According to a Bangladesh News Agency, the bridge will be an important hub for many major sectors in the country’s south-west, including multinational communications, trade, tourism, and industry. In addition, economic activity in the south-west has already increased around the bridge, with mass-level industrialization underway. In this context, the rate of land sale in Barisal doubled in 2020 compared to 2019. Lands near highways are also being sold at three times higher prices than before. According to a light castle, there will be rapid growth of mega factories, hospitals, universities, housing industries, and small businesses around the Padma Bridge.
Additionally, the shipbreaking industry, RMG, assembling plant, and storage facilities will be set up in this region. According to a BSIC source, 500 to 1000 factories of the different sectors will be set up in 6 districts of the Barisal division in the next ten years. According to a report by Dhaka Tribune, if demand for gas, electricity, internet, and infrastructure in the south-west can be met, trade between India, Nepal, and Bhutan with Bangladesh through the region will increase. As a result, the economic landscape of the south-west may change.
According to a CPD source, the poverty rate in the Khulna-Barisal region is at least 10 percent higher than the national average. The construction of the Padma Bridge will reduce the poverty rate by 1.01 percent at the regional level and by 0.84 percent at the national level. Farmers in these areas are not getting a fair price for their crops due to expensive and time-consuming transportation systems. Once the bridge is completed, jute and fish from the Khulna division of Faridpur, along with agricultural products from Barisal, can be transported in the country and abroad quickly. As a result, farmers and producers will get better prices for their produce, which will increase their quality of life. According to a study by the World Bank, about 30 million people in Bangladesh will directly benefit from the Padma Bridge.
As a result of this bridge, communication, transportation, agriculture, industrialization, and employment will increase, which will improve the living standards of the people of this region. The country’s real estate sector in the south-west has also boosted around the Padma Bridge. As a result, it is expected that in the future people in this region will have access to gas, electricity and internet services at a lower cost than before. With the availability of broadband internet facilities, digitalization will be easier in these areas. There is a possibility of creating more jobs through freelancing, which will help enhance the socio-economic status of the people of the region. Being financially prosperous will improve the education system of the area as well as increase the cultural integration among the people on both sides of the Padma. According to a TBS source, employers will increase by about 1 million within the upcoming five years of the bridge’s opening, reaching 30 to 40 million in the next ten years. In addition, at the regional level, the government has taken several steps to create a skilled workforce. In addition to this, for a long time, the people of this region were almost deprived of the advanced medical services of Dhaka due to the poor transportation system. After the construction of the Padma Bridge and the development of communication systems, people from this region will be able to travel to Dhaka and receive advanced medical care quickly.
The economic output of the transportation, trading, and regional industrial revolution centered on the Padma Bridge, along with the GDP growth, will impact the overall economy of the country. According to a Dhaka Tribune report, the launch of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge is expected to contribute about 1.3 to 2 percent per annum to the country’s GDP. At the same time, with the completion of the Padma Bridge Rail Link project, GDP will grow by another 1 percent. According to the current base year, a BRAC study estimates a 5 percent contribution to GDP in 31 years. However, once the bridge is completed, it will contribute 1.2 percent to the country’s GDP. According to the IMF forecast, Bangladesh ranks 20th in the world in ranking GDP growth in 2022. In 2026, Bangladesh will reach the 3rd position in this ranking, one of the contributors of which will be the Padma Bridge.
The Padma Bridge can no longer be called just a steel-built bridge. Still, it has become the center of Bangladesh’s ability, economic growth, and the emotion of the Bangladeshi Population. Mr. Robert Chatterton Dickson, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, described the Padma Bridge as Bangladesh’s “remarkable achievement.” The Government of Bangladesh announced the opening of the Padma Bridge in June 2022 and the opening of the Padma rail link from Dhaka to Bhanga in the same year on 16 December.