The beautification and renovation of the 87-year-old historic Keane Bridge in Sylhet over the Surma River has not started yet, despite several initiatives in past years. The bridge has been in a dilapidated condition for years and has been declared risky.
Last January, the ministry of roads and highways allocated Tk2.81 crore for the renovation of the bridge, which has not yet started. Now, vehicles using this bridge are at risk.
Sylhet City Corporation had an alternative plan for the bridge which connects the north and south banks of the Surma River. They took the initiative to stop all vehicular traffic and turn it into a pedestrian bridge. The city corporation said it would be the longest pedestrian bridge in the country.
As part of this initiative, traffic was stopped by installing iron fences on both sides of the bridge. But the objections of local people never allowed the initiative to go further, nor did the city corporation take any action to renovate the bridge at the time.
Last year, renovation of the bridge was discussed at a coordination meeting of various development projects at the Sylhet Divisional Commissioner's Office and a three-member committee was formed to take necessary steps to repair the bridge.
After that, the Roads and Highways Department applied to the ministry for allocation of funds to repair the bridge. The department's Sylhet office received the money in January, but they have not started the work yet.
Mostafizur Rahman, executive engineer of the roads and highways department, Sylhet, said, "We have a budget allocation for renovation of the bridge. We have also got the work order."
He said, "The railway department built the bridge. They repair such bridges in the country. They are skilled in this sort of work. So, the railway authorities will also work on this project. However, due to some complications, it took 3/4 months to transfer the money to them. We will hand over the money next week. Then they will start working."
The 1,150-foot-long and 16-foot-wide Keane Bridge was built in 1933 and opened to traffic in 1936. It is named after the then Governor of the Indian state of Assam, Michael Keane. The red bridge, made of iron, curved like a bow, is now also a tourist attraction.
The old bridge has become shaky as it has not been repaired for a long time. The bridge trembles under the weight of the vehicles that pass through it. Being risky, the authorities have stopped movement of all types of vehicles except rickshaws and auto-rickshaws.
The Pakistani army tried to destroy the bridge during the liberation war in 1971. After independence, the government of Bangladesh extensively renovated the bridge though no major renovation or maintenance work has taken place since then.
Sylhet City Corporation officials said tourists flock to the Surma River, Kean Bridge, and Ali Amjad's clock. They plan to make this area tourist-friendly, and to beautify the entire area by reducing traffic in the area.
As part of this initiative, in September 2019, all kinds of traffic was stopped by putting up signboards with the word 'risky' on both sides of the bridge. The roads and highways department also agreed to the plan.
However, residents on the south bank of the bridge were outraged after traffic was stopped on Kean Bridge. They demanded that traffic on the bridge be allowed for their convenience. A few days later, rickshaws started moving across after breaking the iron fences on both ends of the bridge. All types of vehicles are now using this bridge.
Nur Azizur Rahman, chief engineer of Sylhet City Corporation, said, "Keane Bridge is under the roads and highways department so they should do the renovation work. They will better address the issue of renovation now."
The official said a decision on whether to allow vehicles to pass through Keane Bridge would be taken after the renovation work.