The 25th anniversary of its commissioning should normally have been an occasion to raise a toast to South Asia’s longest river bridge.
Instead, the Bihar government is mulling funds and fundamentals for a major surgical intervention to extend the fast diminishing life span of Mahatma Gandhi Setu, the state capital’s gateway to North Bihar.
In its silver jubilee month, the government is requisitioning a feasibility study to replace the entire upper structure of the 5.50 km long pre-stress concrete bridge. By a very rough estimate of the road construction department, the work may cost anything over Rs 200 crore. A quarter of a century ago, the entire structure had been built at a cost of Rs 87 crore.
Confirming the move, Bihar Road Construction Minister Nand Kishore Yadav told Hindustan Times that bids had been invited to engage a consultant for examining the feasibility of the mammoth exercise. "Technological viability, cost and the work time span will be considered before committing funds for this project," he added.
The 40-pier bridge was inaugurated in May 1982 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. At that time, its life span was stated to be over 80 years. Google Earth pictures still testify to its majesty but a heavy traffic volume estimated at over 30,000 vehicles a day and lack of timely maintenance have combined to tear apart its hinges well ahead of time.
"The foundation and pillars of the bridge are largely intact. The problem is with the distressed hinges and finger-type expansion joints—a failing of pre-stressed technology. Experts have also found level difference between two cantilever arms at the middle of some spans. All this can be taken care of by changing its upper structure," the minister explained.
A 2004-05 experts’ survey had estimated the bridge’s repair expenditure at Rs 54 crore but the union government, according to Yadav, parted with just Rs 6 crore. "We have invited separate tenders for the repair work. If central funds are still not forthcoming, we may have to fund the works from our own resources," he declared.