Lose iron plates; sharp, protruding bolts and shaky wooden planks cause dozens of two-wheeler riders to skid off the surface of the old Mattancherry bridge, which once symbolized an expanding Kochi and has now fallen on bad days.
The loose iron sheets rise and fall as the weight of the two-wheelers shift from one end to the other. The torrent below and the shaky structure cause the heart to skip a beat as riders pass over the bridge.
“We are fortunate that nobody has skidded so far into the waters below”, said Corporation of Cochin councillor Benedict Fernandez, representing Division 29 in which the bridge stands. He was highlighting the risk posed by the bridge, which has been totally neglected.
It is now open only to two-wheelers. Thousands of people from West Kochi, especially from Chellanam, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, use it as their sole link to Ernakulam mainland as they have to make a detour if they want to use the new bridge.
However, the Public Works Department appears to have woken up to the reality of an old Kochi icon virtually going to the dogs. Sources said that Kerala Electricals and Allied Engineering Company Limited (KEL) will submit a report later this week on maintenance work to be undertaken on the bridge.
Top officials from the Public Works Department and a senior engineer from KEL made an on-the-spot assessment of the condition of the old Mattancherry bridge on Saturday, sources said. They concluded that the bridge needed to be strengthened. A report on how to go about the work will be out soon.
K. J. Sohan, chairman of the Corporation Committee on Town Planning said that the bridge needed to be maintained in good condition considering the role it has played in the development of Kochi. “It is a bridge to which is attached a lot of memories,” he said emphasising that the plan for Kochi harbour and the city hinged on the bridge at one point of time.
Mr. Sohan said that the bridge enjoyed heritage status. It must be preserved as its structure is still strong. According to him, the bridge the can be used for another 50 to 100 years despite appearances to the contrary.
He said that this was the only draw bridge of significance in the State and it should enjoy its status as a link between the old and the new generations. It also symbolises Indo-British cooperation. The old Mattancherry bridge is a structure that changed the fortunes of West Kochi and is a visual treat, he added.
Even though the expenditure involved in renovating the bridge and maintaining it may cost between Rs. two and three crore, the efforts are worth it, he said. However, an institution or personnel with the right expertise must be engaged to look into the preservation of the bridge, that combined unique engineering concepts to suit the perceived needs of the times.
The old Mattancherry bridge is a link to the past. It is the structure that helped Kochi grow into a big city and once symbolized the future direction Kochi would take in its development, said Mr. Sohan.
P. A. Shanavas, hailing from Chullikkal, near Fort Kochi, who uses the old Mattancherry bridge said the condition of the bridge was pathetic. Not only were iron sheets loose and shaky, the uneven tarring on the bridge made it hard for the two-wheeler riders.
The bridge was completed in 1940 and has stood the test of time. It was briefly closed to traffic after the new bridge, located slightly to the southerly direction, was commissioned in 1998.
The heavy vehicles from both the north and southern sides of the old bridge use the new bridge while two-wheelers continue to ply the bridge now. There was once a proposal that Greater Cochin Development Authority would take up the maintenance of the bridge though the proposals were not pursued.
Mr. Fernandez recalled that he had a tough time convincing the authorities to light up the old bridge to free it from anti-social elements, who used to make it their nightly haunt in the past.