Repeated accidents and loss of lives in building flyovers in the city and elsewhere only manifest that the authorities are not serious about public safety at the project sites. The fatal accident at the Malibagh level crossing this week raises the safety concern again.
According to reports, a 36-metre-long girder weighing about 70 tonnes fell from the flyover and killed a temporary hourly worker on the Moghbazar-Malibagh Flyover construction site in the capital. The girder fell on the rail lines from 22 feet above. Firemen dismantled and removed it.
Fire service officials said the pillars adjacent to the rail line were set up at long distances which might have caused the collapse. Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and Bangladesh Railway (BR) formed two probe committees to investigate into the incident.
All indications suggest that no extra precautionary measures were taken for public safety, which are mandatory in a densely populated road. Besides, some fundamental safety precautions like fencing off the construction site, public movement control, maintenance of equipment, keeping the road free and functional, safe traffic management and keeping drainage clear were also ignored by the authorities.
Within a half kilometre from the accident spot, workers were reportedly seen without any safety gear and people were walking beneath the under-construction flyover as the pavement and street were almost unusable there. On the spot, two pieces of the collapsed girder were found just beside the rail line where it had collapsed across the line. Some of the sleepers of the rail track were also damaged due to the accident.
The accident did take place apparently while stressing the girder on the piers, a way of strengthening and enhancing the stability of the girder. Lack of safety gears and poor traffic management had earlier caused fatal accidents that killed at least three construction workers of the project at the construction site of the flyover.
Only last year, the High Court asked the authorities concerned to take adequate safety measures in the Moghbazaar-Mouchak flyover area following the death of a worker at the construction site. In November 2012, 15 people were killed and several others injured when three huge girders of the under-construction Bahaddarhat Flyover collapsed in Chittagong city.
Allegations have it that the LGED, without mandatory approval of the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) and any public consultation, embarked on implementing the 8.7 km flyover scheme with some gross anomalies at a revised cost of Tk 12.19 billion in late 2012.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while presiding over the cabinet meeting this week, expressed her concern over safely situation at the flyover construction site. She ordered enhanced safety measures immediately. A state minister's 'relatives and friends' were reportedly behind the construction firm Toma, said a minister in the meeting.
The flyover project in question has otherwise been facing multi-faceted problems, which led to the changing of the design 122 times so far, since the beginning. Frequent changes in design were done as there was no similarity between the design and the existing underground utility services infrastructure. It resulted in halting the work progress making further delay in project completion. Repeated changes led to the unusual delay of the project work.
What is more worrying is that the flyover has two major flaws. Firstly, the upward ramps are shorter than the downward ramps instead of being the other way round. And on the second, the design has been made for left-hand-drive traffic. All vehicles in Bangladesh drive right-hand and the roads are also designed that way.
The left-hand-driving design made by a US consultant indicates that the flyover has all the wrong turns. The only right turn on the flyover - if someone comes from Moghbazar direction - is at Shantinagar. The remaining turns are all on the left because the design was made for vehicles with left-hand drives.
Although such design faults were identified by a team of experts, the authorities failed to entertain their suggestions for redesigning the flyover. If such suggestions were followed, as many as 60 pillars, which had already been built, would have to be demolished to reset the length of the ramps.
Despite having several flyovers and overpasses, and many more under construction, Dhaka might find difficulties to ease its nagging traffic congestions. There is every possibility that such mega structures will turn into a big burden for the city in the years ahead.