The Padma Bridge is expected to change the economic landscape of the south-western districts of the country, including Barishal, by directly connecting them with the rest of the country. But, are the highways and roads under the Barishal City Corporation ready to handle the huge rush of vehicles they will be up against following the opening of the much-awaited bridge on 25 June?
The answer is clearly in the negative, according to transport sector insiders and drivers of public buses that operate from two bus stands in the Barishal metropolitan area.
Drawing attention to the long tailbacks often created at different points on the Dhaka-Barishal highway now, they have expressed their worries that the situation will be dire in the days ahead. They believe that the traffic load on the route is likely to increase five- to ten-fold once the bridge is inaugurated.
In particular, the 10km stretch of the highway from Gariarpar to Ruptali bus stand in Barishal city will face the worst as the connecting roads are not wide enough to ease the pressure of vehicles, according to Sumon Molla, secretary of the Barishal Bus-Minibus Workers Union.
All people living in the six districts of the division have to use these 10 kilometres to travel to and from the south-western parts of the country as well as the capital Dhaka.
"It takes at least 40 minutes to cross the 6km stretch of the highway within the city, but in an ideal condition it should take less than 10 minutes," said Rafiqul Islam, a sedan driver in Barishal.
A truck driver, Saidur Rahman, told The Business Standard that tailbacks are often created in Sagardi Bazar, Ruptali Bus Stand, Chaumatha and Nathullabad Bus Stand areas of the city. "Around one kilometre portion of the highway – from Rupatoli to Sagardi Bridge – is so narrow that vehicles almost come to a crawling speed," he added.
Most important institutions in Barishal, including Sher-E-Bangla Medical College, Barishal University, Barishal Marine Academy, metropolitan police headquarters, RAB-8 headquarters, many schools, and important marketplaces are located close to the highway, making it busier and prone to frequent accidents.
"If the road is not widened or a bypass road is not constructed, people will have to remain stuck in traffic congestion for hours," said Shajahan, a CNG-run auto-rickshaw driver.
When contacted, Masud Mahmud Sumon, executive engineer of the Roads and Highways Department of Barishal, told The Business Standard that the department has already identified the important spots where vehicles usually get stuck and has selected around 50 spots on the 75km road under its jurisdiction. "The spots will be widened very soon as a proposal in this regard has been sent to the ministry."
He also said the one-kilometre narrow stretch of the highway, from Sagardi to Ruptali Bus Stand, will be broadened by another 12 feet. At present, the width of this portion of the road is 16 feet.
"We have already constructed two steel culverts on both sides of Sagardi Bridge, which has erased traffic jams at the spot," said the engineer.
Proloy Chisim, police commissioner (in charge) of Barishal Metropolitan Police, said the police are thinking of deploying additional forces to ensure public safety and control traffic movement on the highway, and restrict setting up of bazaars along roads within the metropolitan area.