Raiganj, Aug. 9: The Bailey bridge over the Sudani at Domohini, 40km from here, was shut down last night for the fifth time in less than two months.
More than 400 vehicles were stranded on both sides of the bridge that forms part of NH34 connecting north and south Bengal after some wooden planks came off.
Though long-distance buses were diverted through the Bengal-to-Bengal road for a few hours, a long queue of trucks and other heavy vehicles stretched to around 10km on the national highway.
The alternative route, too, was clogged by 11am because of the number of vehicles. Unlike the national highway, which passes through Bihar before entering Bengal again at Kanki, the alternative route sticks to the state. Hence the name Bengal-to-Bengal.
A team from the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is at work on the bridge. “Though I am hopeful that the repair will be over by tonight, I cannot guarantee the stability of the bridge,” said Srikumar Bhattacharya, the project director of the NHAI’s Malda division.
According to Bhattacharya, the bridge can take a load of 40 tonnes. But the continuous pressure of heavily-loaded traffic has affected its capacity.
Though engineers said the bridge needed a complete overhaul, the NHAI for the present has no such plans. “This is because, the national highway will be made into a four-lane from Barasat to Purnia in Bihar. Then another bridge will be built on the Sudani, 1km from the existing bridge,” Bhattacharya said.
According to the project director, though the work of the four-lane road is expected to begin next year, it will be a lengthy process.
The last time the wooden planks of the bridge gave away was on July 12, when an oil tanker was crossing it. The tanker’s tyres were caught in the crack and the heavy vehicle had to be pulled out and towed away before repairs could start.
Bhattacharya had then said the NHAI had sought expert opinion from a firm in Calcutta’s Garden Reach, which usually builds Bailey bridges. The company had suggested replacing the wooden planks with steel ones.
Today the project director said the overhaul would cost around Rs 2.5 crore.
“The proposal has been sent to the head office. We expect to get the green signal soon. When work starts, the road will have to be closed for at least a month,” Bhattacharya said.
According to Bhattacharya, two other Bailey bridges at Dimdima and Gayerkata in Jalpaiguri also needs to be replaced.
The district magistrate of North Dinajpur, Sukumar Bhattacharyya, said he had a discussion with the NHAI authorities. “They said the NH34 has to be closed for a month. I have told them that I don’t have the authority to give them permission for that. I have referred the matter to higher authorities.”
But the district magistrate said the PWD (roads) has been asked to strengthen the Bengal-to-Bengal road to enable it to take extra load in case the national highway is shut down.