Road communication in Khagrachhari is about to get much smoother as a slew of newly-constructed bridges, replacing the decades-old Bailey bridges, will be launched soon.
Forty-two bridges in the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) district are set to be inaugurated by the end of this month – a much-awaited development that local traders and transport owners say will boost connectivity, tourism and trade, as well as ensure road safety.
Khagrachhari is an attractive destination among tourists because of its beautiful landscapes filled with hills, forests and waterfalls.
As of now, road connectivity in this hilly district was mostly maintained with Bailey bridges – a type of temporary bridge constructed with truss steel for quick assembly. But these bridges are risky and prone to accidents.
These bridges have thin steel or wooden decks, which get easily damaged by repeated use by heavily loaded vehicles. Due to insufficient repairs, many have been left in hazardous states. There have been numerous reports of the collapse of such bridges across the country.
To ensure road safety, the government took a long-term project to construct modern permanent bridges against makeshift bridges. The construction of these bridges is at the final stage.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to inaugurate 42 bridges in Khagrachhari along with 100 bridges across the country on 29 October, according to a letter recently sent to the Khagrachhari Roads and Highways Department.
According to the Khagrachhari Roads and Highways Department, the 42 bridges were constructed at a cost of around Tk238.24 crore under the “PC Girder Bridge, RCC Bridge and RCC Box Culvert Construction Project on Various Roads of Khagrachhari District”.
Among them, the longest bridge is the Logang Bridge on Dighinala-Babuchhra-Logang-Panchari road. The 143.05-metre bridge was constructed at a cost of Tk11.71 crore.
Besides, Tk9.27 crore was spent on the construction of the 100-metre Dhurung Canal Bridge on Manikchari-Lakshimchari road and the 79.05-metre Puzhgang Bazar Bridge on Dighinala-Babuchara-Logang-Panchari road was constructed at a cost of Tk7.32 crore.
Khalilur Rahman, general secretary of Khagrachhari Road Transport Owners Group, said, “We have been driving vehicles on the dangerous Bailey bridges for many years, suffering casualties in road accidents. Often, vehicles broke their axles hitting the uneven pavement of the Bailey bridges. Now that permanent bridges have been built, it will bring a major change in the road connectivity of Khagrachhari.”
Sabuj Chakma, the deputy assistant engineer of Khagrachhari Roads and Highways Department, said, “We have completed the construction work and are now waiting for the prime minister to inaugurate the bridges officially.”
Earlier 18 permanent bridges, built at a cost of Tk43 crore, were inaugurated in the district, bringing drastic changes in regional road communication between Khagrachhari, Dhaka and Chattogram.
According to locals, with the opening of these bridges, the tourism sector will be prosperous along with the improvement of the quality of life in the district.
Shapla Devi Tripura, a local women entrepreneur and chairperson of Sampari Group of Initiatives, said, “People of the district have been commuting through these temporary Bailey bridges, built in the 80s, for about thirty years now. There are no accounts of how many accidents have occurred and how many lives have been lost.”
“The new bridges will make the travel of tourists much safer. Sajek Valley is the most popular tourist spot in the country and tourists will have to pass three of these 42 bridges to reach the spot,” she added.
Among the three CHT districts – Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandbaran – Khagrachhari is well ahead of the other two districts in terms of communication.
Mentioning that local entrepreneurs are expanding commercial activities, Khagrachhari Hill District Council Chairman Mongsueprou Chowdhury Apu said, “Since the current government came to power, there has been a great change in road communication in Khagrachhari. We have a constant fear of the Bailey bridges being collapsed with vehicles and passengers. Now there is a safe uninterrupted road connection inside the district’s upazilas.”
“As Khagrachhari is a tourist destination and has agricultural significance, the whole country will see the positive impact and opportunities presented by the bridges in a very short time,” he added.
Jabarang Kalyan Samiti, a non-governmental development organisation of Khagrachhari, plays an important role in the socio-economic development of the entire district.
Mathura Bhikas Tripura, executive director of the organisation said, “Bridges are a very important part of the modern communication system. As bridge connectivity increases, so will the economic potential of the area.”
Kangjari Chowdhury, president of Khagrachhari Chamber of Commerce and former Zilla Parishad chairman, said Khagrachhari is an agricultural-dependent area. The agricultural products produced here are supplied all over the country. The new bridges will allow traders to transport goods across the country worry-free.”