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Engineers: To ensure safety and security of over 272 existing bridges, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will train over 56 Bhutanese engineers in construction and maintenance of bridges in the next three years.

An agreement was signed between the government and JICA for a three-year project called CAMBRIDGE (construction and management of bridges), yesterday in Thimphu.

The project follows a request from the Bhutanese government. The government initiated the idea since most of the concrete and steel bridges built in 1970s and 1980s have deteriorated from lack of adequate maintenance and monitoring.

“Though the lifespan of concrete and steel permanent bridges are usually 40-100 years, the conditions of most of these bridges have deteriorated after 40-50 years of service life due to lack of adequate maintenance and monitoring,” the project agreement states.

Safety of these bridges has become a critical issue in the light of increasing volume of traffic and freight.

“Therefore, the Bhutanese government requested Japan for enhancing of bridge engineering methods such as plan, design and construction,” the Japan Overseas Consultants Company (JOCV) vice president, Keigo Konno said.

Department of Roads (DoR) bridge division chief engineer, Tshewang Dorji, said that though Bhutan has built many bridges and continues to build many more, maintenance has been lacking. He attributed some of the recent events, such as bridge collapses and damage during the heavy monsoon and flash floods, to lack of proper maintenance.

The CAMBRIDGE project will now initiate activities to enhance the capacity of DoR engineers in the ministry, dzongkhags and private companies. “This project is established for construction and maintenance of bridges in Bhutan,” Keigo Konno said.

Though Japan has been assisting Bhutan for many years in bridge construction, the skills of Bhutanese engineers on planning, design and construction has not improved, according to Keigo Konno.

Lack of skills among Bhutanese bridge engineers and the absence of a tradition of passing down skills and methods to successors are other problems, he said. “If someone left to work for some private companies, the younger generation had no one to learn the skills and methods from,” Keigo Konno said.

As a result, 10 experts, mostly bridge engineers, from Japan arrived in October this year to assist local bridge engineers in addressing these shortcomings.

“After three years their skills and knowledge will be completely enhanced to support the people of Bhutan,” Keigo Konno said.

The project aims to train local engineers through activities such as workshops on basic bridge engineering, on-job training on quality, safety control, bridge inspection, diagnosis, repair and reinforcement.

The activities will also include development of a bridge maintenance manual, field checklist, and mid-term and long-term bridge maintenance plans. DoR engineers will also be invited to attend a two-week training programme in Japan.

At the end of the three-year project, local bridge engineers are expected to have basic knowledge on bridge engineering necessary for planning, designing, construction and maintenance of bridges.

The DoR engineers will also be able to develop bridge maintenance manuals, and a field checklist on the basic items required for quality control and safety.

A bridge management system will also be another important outcome of the project, which will enable the DoR to obtain budget for bridge maintenance.

Tshewang Dorji said that the bridge maintenance system would help the department to come up with a better bridge maintenance budget. Under the existing system, each bridge, both semi-permanent and permanent, gets Nu 26,000 each, which is inadequate.

“This project will help us come up with a proper checklist to use as a basis to apply for budget,” the chief engineer said.

Tempa Wangdi

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