After it took nine years and three months to be built, the 175-metre Amochhu Bridge opened to traffic on July 14.
The bridge that now officially connects Phuentsholing, Chukha with Samtse and Haa is the longest bridge and the first of its kind in the country. It is a 3D-parabolic semi-through steel arch bridge with a carrying capacity of 40 metric tonnes.
The driving distance between Phuentsholing and Samtse is now reduced to 57km from 81.2km which was via Indian highway.
The bridge construction started in April 2009. Since then it has missed more than seven deadlines.
At the bridge site yesterday, a taxi driver from Khenpagaon of Tading gewog, Samtse, Pokchay Bomjan, 39 said the inauguration of the bridge is historic.
“I am plying to Phuentsholing through this route for the first time,” the driver said. “Now I can directly drive to Phuentsholing.”
Prior to its official opening, people from Dophuchen drungkhag that comprise three gewogs of Dophuchen (Dorokha), Denchukha, and Dumtey used the suspension bridge besides the Amochhu Bridge. They transhipped goods and commodities bought from Phuentsholing.
Maya Devi Ghalley, 54, who runs a canteen close to the bridge, said she opened her shop just a year before the bridge construction commenced in 2009.
“I am the only canteen owner here today,” she said, adding she would lease government land and continue to run her canteen.
Maya Devi Ghalley said so much had happened in the last nine years. The bridge was affected several times, she observed.
First, the JV partnership between Bhutanese construction firm, Bhutan Builders and its India-based partner DK Engineering & Construction private limited were terminated in 2011. Bhutan Builders and DK Engineering & Construction private limited were terminated 30 months after the work was awarded. These construction companies had failed to complete 50 percent of the work target in the stipulated time.
Later in 2016, Gaseb Construction and its Nepal based JV partner Kalika Construction were also terminated for failing to complete the work on time. The firms had delayed the project for two months, which according to the committee risked the bridge to more natural disasters. The decision to terminate Gaseb and Kalika was approved by a Ministerial Level Tender Committee (MLTC) of works and human settlement ministry.
A Siliguri based company Santalall & Brothers Limited (SBL) was then appointed to complete the job.
The Amochhu flood in July 2015 also caused huge damage to the construction and a loss of about Nu 10M was reported. This also changed the deadline.
Speaking to Kuensel, the works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, said the bridge was long due. She said a lot of problems were faced in the process of construction.
“We faced technical problems and contractual problems but in the end our own engineers were able to solve all the problems,” lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said it is finally completed. “The engineers have done a great job.”
DoR chief engineer in Phuentsholing regional office, Dorji Wangdi said Amochhu Bridge is something to be proud of.
“This bridge will immensely benefit people and the communities,” the chief engineer said. “This connectivity will also help alleviate poverty.”
Tading gup Jagath Bahadur Ghalley said the bridge has already benefitted people in his gewog.
“From today, a farmers’ dairy group has started to take milk to Phuentsholing,” he said.
He also said that the distance between Tading and Phuentsholing has been shortened to eight to nine kilometres today.
Transportation of construction materials, which has been a major problem, is no more a problem now, Jagath Bahadur Ghalley said.
“Our people also can avail varieties of goods and commodities from Phuentsholing compared to Samtse,” the gup said, adding that farmers would now grow more vegetables and take them to sell in Phuentsholing, Thimphu, and Paro.
Business people from Dophuchen have also started travelling to Phuentsholing via the new highway.
Taxi driver Pokchay Bomjan said Tading people had almost lost hope when the bridge supposed to complete in three entered the fourth and fifth year. “Its completion has come back as a celebration.”
The bridge was inaugurated by lyonpo Dorji Choden. Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel, home minister Dawa Gyaltshen, parliament members, officials from DoR and two dzongkhags of Chukha and Samtse were also present.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing