Distressed Bridges and Tattered Roads

Distressed Bridges and Tattered Roads

India has a large inventory of bridges including over 1,20,000 bridges under Railways belt, with over 51,000 bridges as much as 100 years old which have outlived their lifespan. There have been periodic reports of some of the bridges under Railways and other agencies collapsing under their weight in normal circumstances and during rainy seasons. History of state of affairs of bridges in the country is abound with interesting stories all pointing out to a skewed approach to the inspection, repairs and maintenance of these bridges which are lifeline of the communication network of the country. In this special issue on Bridges and Roads, we present some of the typical examples to address the critical area of repair and rehabilitation of old and some of the new bridges so that they do not pose a serious danger to the public.

Distressed Bridges and Tattered Roads
Longest Bridges: A view of the Vidyasagar Setu, the longest bridge of its type in India, and one of the longest in Asia, which is the second bridge connecting Kolkata and Howrah. The bridge is named after the 19th century Bengali reformist Ishwar Vidyasagar. The Vidyasagar Setu is a cable–stayed bridge, with a span of a little over 457 meters, and a deck 35 metres wide. Construction started in 1978 and the bridge was finally inaugurated on October 10, 1992. The commissioning agency was the Hoogly River Bridge Commission and the contractors for the construction was the consortium of Braithwaite, Burn and Jessop.

In Delhi, people have been living dangerously raising a question on the safety of at least three bridges. Wazirabad bridge over Yamunahas been posing a danger. Its bearings are being changed regularly. 100 years old Iron Bridge at Yamuna Bazarbuilt by the Britishhas outlived its tenure and is considered unsafe, putting at risk thousands of commuters who use it daily. 14 years old, Nizamuddin Bridge, has a sad history. In 1992, a portion of the bridge caved in during the busy evening hours. A Japanese firmhad to be roped in to build a parallel bridge. The new bridge clearly explains the difference Delhi’s and Tokyo’s standards of civic engineering inputs.

Apart from this, many road and bridge projects are likely to miss 2010 target deadline. The much-hyped Signature Bridge across the Yamuna is already off the list of the projects to be completed before the Commonwealth Games. Various flyover projects have also already missed several deadlines. Geeta Colony Bridge, having already missed two deadlinesis eight to ten months behind its schedule. The fate of some more projects like elevated roads is not yet clear. The situation in other parts of the country is more or less the same.

In Himachal, flash floods in the Chakki rivulets have washed away a portion of the embankment of the temporary Chakki diversion bridge built by the government. With the washing away of the whole embankment on the Punjab side, the chances of restoring traffic on the Mandi-Pathankot national highwaythrough a diversion bridge during the current rainy season are remote. This diversion bridge using 270 pipes was thrown open to traffic in January this year. This 90 metre bridge was built as an alternative to the 118 years old inter-state Chakki Bridge washed away during August last year, which is being built after facing lots of problems.

Distressed Bridges and Tattered Roads
People looking at the damaged bridge on the Haldwani–Naintal bypass route, on the river Gaula in Haldwani. The eight-year-old bridge, built by Uttar Pradesh Bridge Corporation, collapsed after its two dividing pillars broke down. However, no casualty was reported. The district administration was unable to discover the cause. However, the mining for sand seems to have done the damage according to district officials. A high-level enquiry has been ordered by the administration. The bypass had to be closed for traffic.

In Jharkhand state,a bridge built a few years back failed to withstand the flash floods and collapsed last month. In Utarakhand, a bridge connecting Kathgodan bypass to Haldwani township, collapsed last month. The eight year old bridge over the Gaula river, built by the UP Bridge Corporation, collapsed after its two dividing pillars broke down. In Punjab, a bridge over Ghaggar river collapsed last month.

In Kolkata, a renovated bridge has created more problems to the commuters. The century old Convent Bridge that connects the eastern part of the citywith Entally has been renovated, but an increase in the height of the structure by around 600mm has created more serious problems for the users. It was recently repaired. The civic body now engaged in a dispute with the Eastern Railway over whose responsibility is it to elevate the road on either side of the bridge to match the level of the structure Post–revamp, the bridge juts above the road surface, made it impossible for vehicles to mount it. The bridge over railway tracks was not high enough to allow free passage of trains. At times, the pantographs of EMU or goods train got stuck in the structure. To overcome the problem, the railway decided to overcast the bridge and raise its height by two feet. But now the railway has agreed to take corrective measures in view of problems it posed to the users. But it is too late as it has been causing serious traffic snarlson it. But for the people of Kolkata, there is a good news too. The consortium that built Nivedita Setu has requested the state government to add two more ramps to it. The amps are being added to the 880 metre-long bridge. These ramps will raise the traffic volumeand more people will benefit from the bridge.

The ramp on the eastern side should be ready within the next few months, said Prof SS Chakraborty, Chairman, Second Vivekanand Bridge Tollway Company. Nivedita Setu, the third bridge on the Hooghly river and a vital link between NH-2 and NH-6 and is expected to register a daily traffic of 20,000 vehicles, he added.

Infrastructure developments going on in the country have reached a stage where all options lead to initiating timely steps to avoid progressive degradation of bridges and highways by all concerned with a different mindset in sharp contrast to the past practices. There exist many loose ends to be tightened. We have hundreds of eminent and experienced Indian bridge engineers and contracting agencies to do these jobs. Many modern and innovative forms, designs and construction engineering concepts are being adopted keeping pace with the latest bridge engineering trends abroad.A rail bridge being built over the river Chenab will dwarf some of the tallest bridges of the world.World’s longest sea bridge, a 22 km bridgefrom Sewai in central Mumbai to Nhava in Navi Mumbaibeing constructed and now at its completion andwill incorporate many new innovative design and construction featureswhich could form basis for other bridges in the country in the coming years.

Distressed Bridges and Tattered Roads
A bridge that collapsed due to flash floods near Ranchi
Given the right direction and motivation, the repairs and rehabilitation of all old dangerous and unsafe bridges can be accomplished. There are a number of success stories of such works having been doneby our engineers and contracting agencies, which have not only saved national resourcesbut have given a professional job satisfaction to these engineers. But nevertheless, the critical area of repair and rehabilitation of old bridges requires immediate attention of the policy makers and implementing bodies so that the large inventory of old and new bridges do not pose any serious danger to those who use these bridges day-in and day-out.

With regard to development of roads and highways, it is almost a chill on these projects. The proportion of targets achieved on flagship programmes like GQ and NS-EW have been steadily decliningand NBM&CW has been reporting the progress from time to time. The progress of PMGSY and Bharat Nirman to construct roads to bridge the infrastructure deficit in both rural and urban areas, is no better. How a project hits its dead-end is well illustratedby the case of Bangalore-Mysore corridor, the first privately implemented expressway and township project. Modelled on the Autobahan of Germany, the 41 km peripheral road around Bangalore is a saga of flip-flops. The peripheral expressway is part of a 164 km string of expressways and five world–class townships aimed at decongesting Bangalore.

During 2006-07 in Bengal, some 20 km from Kolkata at Balia stretch of the GQ-Kolkata–Chennai highway caved in. It was completed a year back. It was not any run-of-the mill construction as the stretch was constructed by a well–known construction company.

Roads in major metropolitan cities and smaller cities are in deplorable condition following rains. Road users woes in these cities are indeed symbolic of a noticed problem not withstanding light or heavy downpour during monsoon or no monsoon. Experts are on the view that unless cities roads are built as established engineering specifications with mandatory thickness and layer recommended with quality materials like concrete instead asphalt. Roads are likely to crumble like that we are seeing today all over the country. Delhi which almost spend a whopping Rs 350 crore annually to maintain and repair roads should take the lead to ensure that roads in the city should not have to be touched or resurfaced for five years the time they are laid. Roads abroad are not touched for as long as twenty years, leave aside the question of relaying.

It seems, we are still in an archaic construction management and supervising and monitoring mouldand it should serve as a wake up call to put an endto such degradation of highway stretchesand responsibility fixed for the loss of resources and time. A high powered committee has already expressed serious concern about the quality of roads constructed and has recommended placing a sound monitoring mechanism to ensure quality of construction and making agencies accountable for poor maintenance of roads so that remaining part of roads constructed are more durable. There has to be a seamless cooperation and coordination amongst various participanting departments of highway and bridge projects, not only to execute the project but also for their upkeep and proper maintenance to prevent progressive degradation of costly infrastructure built. Only then the country will be endowed withstrong infrastructure connectivity criss-crossing the four corners from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to North East.

NBMCW September 2008

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