The people of four gewogs of Gelephu drungkhag, who live on the other side of Maokhola, have passionately waited for a bridge over the river.

The wait has been for more than a decade. Political parties that pledged to construct the bridge have come and gone.

What remained unchanged is the people’s hope to have a bridge over the river.

The hope revived yet again during the third parliamentary elections last year. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s pledge to build the bridge is included both in the constituency and national manifestos.

In line with the government’s pledge to construct the bridge, human settlement and communications ministers on March 3 visited areas identified as possible bridge construction sites.

It was learnt that the work and human settlement ministry’s flood engineering and management division have been carrying out few preliminary studies of the Maokhola river with focus on river training and protection works.

Department of Roads’ (DoR) director general, Tenzin, said that based on the study, the division has also identified certain stretches along the river where the bridge would be best suitable.

The possible location of the bridge stretches from below the Gelephu thromde’s water treatment plant until the fishery area, which is about half a kilometer.

The director general said that while the input from the study would be taken into consideration since the study is mostly focused on river protection, a detailed project report (DPR) and feasibility study on bridge construction is needed before finalising anything. “There are no confirmed locations for the bridge as of now.”

Tenzin said that given the complex river system of Maokhola including the numerous tributaries joining the river, the wide floodplains, and erratic rainfall and flooding patterns, the initial step is to carry out a detailed analysis and feasibility study of the river.

“At the end of the day, it is proper planning that determines the success of the project. So for this, we need to first carry out these studies,” he said.

Tenzin said that with the inclusion of Maokhola bridge construction in 12thPlan, the department would soon begin the detailed feasibility study and work on developing the DPR. “If everything works out well, we will be starting the bridge construction within the plan period.”

However, he said that whether the department could complete the bridge or not would depend on the findings of the feasibility study and the DPR.

If the project comes through, he said, the bridge would be the longest bridge in the country measuring not less than 800ms.

Meanwhile, local leaders of the four gewogs located on the other side of the Moakhola river shared concerns over the possible location identified in the preliminary study.

Serzhong gup, Tshering, said the location of the bridge would be crucial in delivering services to the people of the four gewogs.

He said the ideal location of the bridge would be above the thromde’s water treatment plant, as it would be centrally located for all four gewogs.

“If the bridge is constructed below the water treatment plant anywhere near the fishery, the purpose is lost,” said the gup. “Moreover, there would be security issues in future as the bridge would be located near the border.”

Umling gup, Ugyen Norbu, said that constructing the bridge near the fishery would not help in reducing the travel time for people of the four gewogs.

“If the bridge is located above the water treatment plant, it would connect somewhere near Chaskhar chiwog of Chuzergang gewog,” said the gup. “From there, a network of roads is already in place connecting all the four gewogs.”

Chuzergang gup, Sangay Tshering, said that the current possible location of the bridge from the study would benefit the gewog most as it would connect somewhere near Danabari in Thongjabi village which would be centrally located to all five chiwogs of his gewog.

“There are people in the gewog who would want this to happen. But this location would not benefit the rest of the other three gewogs,” said the gup. “We want the government to build the bridge from where it could serve all four gewogs equally.”

It was learnt that the current possible location, which the Gelephu thromde also agrees on, was proposed considering the potential impacts the water treatment plant could suffer if the bridge is constructed above the treatment plant.

The water treatment plant has an infiltration gallery through which water from Maokhola is absorbed and pumped to 80 percent of the thromde residents.

Director general Tenzin said that construction of the bridge above the treatment plant could hamper the infiltration rate and cause damage to the supply system. Also, the cost of construction would shoot as the bridge moves further south of the treatment plant.

Meanwhile, information and communications minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, said that construction of Maokhola bridge has been there for the last 10 years. However, given the cost involved, it could not materialise.

The minister informed the gathering in Tarithang gewog that the visit to the site was the first step in delivering to the people the much anticipated Moakhola bridge.

The government has a budget outlay of Nu 400 million in the 12th Plan for the Maokhola bridge project.

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu