Ten bridges built a century ago have survived time, extreme climatic conditions and wear and tear.

In Kerala these century-old bridges are in excellent condition while newer ones need repairArun Muralidhar, Wikimedia Commons
news Public Works Friday, May 12, 2017 - 18:37

Modern engineering and architecture have evolved to give us some impressive and sturdy structures. When it comes to cities especially, structures like bridges need to be able to handle the daily bustle, traffic and heavy wear and tear they’re put through each day. You’d assume that structures built using modern techniques and materials would be better suited to the contemporary conditions.

But in a surprising revelation from Kerala, the Public Works Department (PWD) has found that ten bridges built a century ago are actually in much better condition that others built more recently. While the former were found to be in ‘excellent’ condition, many of the newer bridges were not safe and required urgent repair and replacement.

These ten bridges have survived time, extreme climatic conditions and wear and tear. According to information accessed by TNM from PWD Minister G Sudhakaran’s office, five of these are in Thiruvananthapuram, namely, Kundamankadav Iron bridge (built in 1897), Pamancode (1898), Kallar (1902), Jagathy (1907), and Palikode (1920).

The others are Chittar bridge (1902), Aikadav (1917) in Aarnmula, Layikad bridge (while the year of construction is not known, the bridge believed to be a hundred years old) in Kottayam, Marika bridge (1908) in Thodupuzha and Muvattupuzha bridge (1914). Most of these were built during the British rule or during the reign of different royal families.

The observations were made in a first of its kind examination undertaken by the Public Work Department which looked at 2249 bridges in the state, excluding those under National Highways. Of these, a mere 683 bridges were found to be ‘safe’, which also happen to include 27 bridges built in the pre-independence era. 1141 bridges need minor repair and of the 365 bridges needing emergency replacement, 165 require technical re-examination.

The examination was conducted after cracks were found in Enath bridge in Pathanamthitta in January. The bridge connects Pathanamthitta with Kollam district. TNM also found that this is a preliminary examination which will be followed by a detailed inspection.

“The examination was completed and report was given in March. The government will consider repairing or even reconstructing some bridges after the detailed inspection,” a source from Sudhakaran’s office said.

“The average life span for bridges is 50 years. The wear and tear and heavy traffic over the years are the major reasons for their poor state. But negligence on the part of contractors and authorities have contributed to the early death of some bridges, like Enath bridge. Cracks have been found in it merely 19 years after it was opened for traffic,” the source observed.

Sudhakaran told the Assembly on Wednesday that not using quality material for construction, absence of periodic inspection and administrative apathy have made some bridges unsafe. He also said that the ten bridges are monuments to human ingenuity. 

The source confirmed the PWD Minister’s observation about lack of routine inspections, saying, “In most of the cases inspection at regular intervals are not done.” The source added that they wouldn’t be ‘leaving anything to chance’ and even the ten century-old bridges, along with the 27 pre-independence era bridges, would be inspected again.

“In the cases of those bridges we have to check if there is wear and tear due to reverse stress effect which simply can termed as ‘fatigue’,” the source said. “The repair or reconstruction work will be carried out in due course. Repairs will be done first on those bridges which need urgent replacement,” the source added.

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