Stir on to save city’s oldest bridge

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Vital link: The Kundamankadavu bridge on the Thiruvananthapuram-Kattakada route.
Vital link: The Kundamankadavu bridge on the Thiruvananthapuram-Kattakada route.

Special Correspondent

The Kundamankadavu bridge is in need of reconstruction

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kundamanbhagom East Residents Association (KERA) has renewed its stir to pressurise the government into reconstructing the 110-year-old Kundamankadavu bridge on the Thiruvananthapuram-Kattakada route.

The steel suspension bridge across the Karamana river which dates back to 1898 is in urgent need of widening and reconstruction, but the authorities are yet to act. Years of neglect and heavy traffic have taken a heavy toll on the structure which provides a vital link between the city and the suburbs.

The association is demanding the construction of a new bridge at the location. It wants the existing structure to be retained as a monument.

“The narrow bridge can hardly accommodate two vehicles side by side. Very often, vehicles are trapped in the middle, leading to long traffic snarls often extending up to Peyad and Valiyavila. Two-wheelers, autorickshaws and pedestrians are the most vulnerable,” association treasurer Kanathil Narayanan said.

Mr. Narayanan pointed out that the residents in the area had been campaigning for a new bridge for years. “In 2004, the government issued an order for the construction of a new bridge at Kundamankadavu with assistance from Nabard. But the government today maintains that such a project is not on the cards. A subsequent proposal to construct a new bridge with assistance from the World Bank was also not followed up.”

Local people point out that illegal sand-mining from the river has exposed the foundations of the bridge, further weakening the structure.

On Friday, KERA staged a hunger strike near the bridge to highlight its demand. N. Sakthan, MLA, inaugurated the stir. Residents associations, political, social and cultural organisations and trade unions participated. Vilappil panchayat president A. Babukumar presided over the function. KERA president John Franklin and general secretary M.R. Krishnankutty Nair were present.

A majority of the bridges in the city were built in the pre-Independence era. Most such bridges, with narrow carriageways, were designed mainly for bullock carts and small vehicles. They now creak under heavy traffic comprising buses and multi-axle trucks.

Several of the bridges maintained by the Public Works Department have more historic value than road-worthiness. While even modern building techniques using sophisticated equipment and pre-stressed concrete do not guarantee a lifespan of more than 100 years, quite a few of the bridges in the city have crossed the century mark.

The 110-year-old Kundamankadavu iron girder bridge is the oldest in the city. The three-span Maruthankuzhy bridge, the second oldest, was reconstructed some years ago. The third oldest bridge at Vallakkadavu is awaiting reconstruction.

The ageing bridges, categorised under Class A loading (heavy vehicles), are periodically given a fresh lease of life with minor maintenance works.

Despite demands from various sources, the government is yet to carry out a stability-safety evaluation of the bridges in the district. Apart from the stress-load factor and wear and tear, there are other factors such as illegal sand-mining that pose a threat to the safety of bridges. Sand-miners often violate the distance limits prescribed by law — 30 metres away from bridges and 10 metres away from the banks — to ensure easy access for lorries ferrying the sand. Bridge engineers say that chloride contamination and alkali aggregate reaction also cause slow deterioration of bridges.

The main factor that hinders the government from financing proposals for reconstruction of bridges is the high cost involved. Opposition to toll collection is the main reason for the government’s reluctance to BOT proposals for bridge reconstruction.




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