DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday celebrated the opening of the country’s longest bridge, which took eight years to build amid setbacks related to political disputes and alleged of corruption.
The 6.51 kilometer (4.04 mile) bridge spanning the Padma River cost an estimated $3.6 billion and was paid for with domestic funds after the World Bank and other global lenders refused to finance the project following a corruption scandal involving a Canadian construction company.
The bridge, which will be open to the public on Sunday, will reduce the distance between the capital, Dhaka, and Bangladesh’s second largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers (62 miles).
“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 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Dhaka.
Although not directly part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, the bridge was built by China Major Bridge Engineering Company Ltd. and is seen by Beijing as a milestone in cooperation with Bangladesh, according to a statement by Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming.
The China Railway Group said the Padma Bridge will later feature a rail network that will connect with other Belt and Road projects and serve as an important link between China and a pan-Asian rail network.
Economists say the Padma Bridge will boost Bangladesh’s gross domestic product by an additional 1.3% a year, adding to the Asian Development Bank’s robust growth projections that see Bangladesh’s $465 billion economy will increase by 6.9% in 2021-22 and 7.1% in 2022. -23.
Officials said the bridge will connect at least 21 districts in the southern and southwestern regions of Bangladesh.
Experts say building the bridge, which involved more than 4,000 engineers, was a major technical challenge. The underwater piles extend 122 meters (400 feet) deep, a world record, and it takes 41 pillars. At some points of the river, the volume of water flow ranks second in the world only after the Amazon River.
The World Bank said in 2012 that it found elements of corruption involving a Canadian construction company in plans for the Padma Bridge and decided not to fund $1.2 billion for the project.
The move prompted other lenders, including the Asian Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project. Hasina then said that Bangladesh would build the bridge with its own funds.
The bribery charges were brought before a Superior Court in Ontario, Canada, which acquitted three former senior executives of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian company, in an international bribery case linked to the construction of the bridge in 2017.
Hasina also defied harsh criticism from the political opposition led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during the construction of the bridge. The opposition criticized Hasina’s government for tripling the budget over the years and accused the authorities of corruption. Hasina denied the allegations.
Julhas Alam, Associated Press