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Bangladesh marks opening of country’s longest bridge

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (AP) – Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday celebrated the opening of the country’s longest bridge, which took eight years to build amid setbacks.

The 6.51-kilometre bridge spanning the Padma River cost an estimated USD3.6 billion and was paid for with domestic funds after the World Bank and other global lending agencies declined to finance the project following a graft scandal involving a Canadian construction company.

The bridge, which will open to the public today, will slash the distance between the capital, Dhaka, and Bangladesh’s second largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometres.

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It encapsulates our passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance,” Hasina said at a ceremony in Mawa, about 31 kilometres southwest of Dhaka.

While not directly part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, the bridge was built by the China Major Bridge Engineering Company Ltd and is seen by Beijing as a milestone for cooperation with Bangladesh, according to a statement by China’s Ambassador Li Jiming.

Bangladesh’s longest bridge stands over Padma River on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AP

The China Railway Group has said the Padma Bridge will later feature a rail network that connects with other Belt and Road projects and will serve as an important link between China and a pan-Asian rail network.

Economists say the Padma Bridge will increase Bangladesh’s gross domestic product by an additional 1.3 per cent per year, adding to robust growth projections from the Asian Development Bank that predict Bangladesh’s USD465 billion economy will grow by 6.9 per cent in 2021-22, and 7.1 per cent in 2022-23.

Officials said the bridge will connect at least 21 districts in the southern and southwestern regions of Bangladesh.

Experts say the construction of the bridge, which involved more than 4,000 engineers, was a major technical challenge. The underwater pilings extend 122 metres deep, a world record, and it requires 41 pillars. At some points in the river, the water flow volume ranks second globally only after the Amazon River.