News on Sunday (TNS)

disasterThird in a row
The recent collapse of a pedestrian bridge on Ring Road could have easily been avoided if there was a single authority to initiate and maintain such huge engineering projects

By  HaT
Hasty projects with little or no regard for engineering prerequisites and formalities have put the lives of scores of road users in danger as the pedestrian bridges, especially on the Ring Road, have been collapsing one by one due to small collisions with overloaded vehicles.
Poor surveillance and implementation of traffic rules by the Ring Road Police Force and City Traffic Police have further lessened the chance of survival in case of such disasters.
Two out of the three recent incidents of overhead bridges collapsing have occurred on Ring Road during the last one year, less than two years after it was constructed.
The entire government machinery is shocked. In any other country of the world, the project manager would be held responsible if such an incident had occurred but here, the issue has been put on the backburner as the officials resorted to blame game.
There is a lot of room for this ‘blame game,’ because a number of departments including the Communications & Works (C&W), Lahore Ring Road Authority, Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) and National Logistics Cell (NLC) are directly involved in constructing such bridges. This could have easily been avoided if there was a single authority to initiate and maintain such huge engineering projects.
On June 28, 2012, a truck (MNB-1591) was going to Niazi Shaheed Road and as it reached near Bholi Camp School the overhead-bridge collapsed on it. As a result, the truck driver Sajjad Amjad of Sargodha was crushed to death and his truck was completely destroyed.
A case was registered in the North Cantt police station against Khalid Rauf, the owner of Rauf Constructions, who was taken into police custody. The inquiry committee, constituted by the former Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, put the entire blame of the incident on the driver.
On December 22, 2012, an over-head pedestrian bridge collapsed as a truck hit it near the Punjab University on Canal Road. The bridge had come down as a trailer hauling heavy machinery and exceeding the stated 16-foot height limit hit into it. The driver sustained injuries while other road users were luckily saved as the traffic at night was very little.
More recently, an under-construction pedestrian bridge fell down on the Ring Road near Defence, Phase IV, due to the criminal negligence of the construction company.
The bridge collapsed at around 10 in the morning of May 22 this year. No one was hurt, but the collapse led to a massive traffic jam. No legal action has been taken against anyone so far.
Sources told TNS that the Lahore Ring Road Authority (LRRA) engineers had asked the National Logistics Cell (NLC) to stop, short of its construction, by declaring it “dangerous” some eight months back as the beam section of the bridge had cracked while it was being shifted from Package-6 of the Ring Road Project to Package-17. However, the beam was not removed from the pillars that resulted into its collapse.
The Punjab government had ordered the installation of a steel bridge at Package-6, considering the conditions of the June 28, 2012 incident. However, the NLC officials were allowed to install the beam at a pedestrian bridge in Package-17. But during its inspection at the site in Defence, Phase-IV, the LRRA engineers detected the crack and asked the NLC engineers to pull the bridge down but to no avail.
Structural engineering experts have questioned the engineering authenticity of over 20 pedestrian bridges installed on the Ring Road and many others on the Canal Road besides scores of other bridges on major and small roads of the city. They suggest that these bridges should be reexamined in order to avoid future disasters. They also say that the authorities concerned should strengthen the structures, especially the girders, of these bridges for the safety of commuters.
A civil engineer told TNS that the authorities should go for steel bridges instead of concrete structures. He went on to say that the project managers have only put beams on T-shaped pillars and not adopted safety measures by screwing them up with bolts or welding.
He also said that the beams of the Metro Bus System Route (MBSR) should also be strengthened by giving proper protection to girders in order to avert any such disaster, as girders have been placed on the overhead bridges on mere T-shaped pillars.
A senior civil engineer says there is “no proper supervision during the construction of such bridges.”
He adds that the flaws in designs, which should be site-specific, also result in disasters of this kind. The NESPAK provided consultancy to the government for the construction of pedestrian bridges on Ring Road. The project manager should be questioned about the flaws which resulted in the current incident, maintains the official, while demanding action against those responsible.
Another senior officer of Punjab government says, “The government should also break the lobbies working just for the increase of the project costs by holding them responsible for criminal negligence in such incidents.”
He adds that the focus on “perfect engineering” would help to resolve such issues at a time when traffic engineering is almost absent from the city roads.
He warns that if the Punjab government and all departments concerned did not start self-assessment and accountability on the hasty projects, it could result in irreparable loss to the nation.
Moreover, there is no guidance for drivers ahead of underpasses and overhead bridges which otherwise can play an important role in avoiding crashes.
SP Ring Road Police Force Salman Ali Khan claims that gantries have been installed ahead of the bridges that mention the maximum height of the passing vehicles and action is taken against any violators by issuing challans to them.
However, the picture on ground is different as no gantry is installed ahead of the bridges and the underpasses in the provincial metropolis, especially on the Ring Road. A few signboards exist but no police is there to man them.
Chief Traffic Officer, Capt (r) Suhail Chaudhry admits the fact that there are no gantries ahead of overhead bridges and underpasses to guide the drivers. He also says that the engineers should design projects keeping in view all necessities of citizens.
He is of the view that it was financially difficult for the traffic police to install signboards ahead of all bridges.
However, Capt (r) Suhail Chaudhry suggests, if the government installs gantries at only four entry places of the city i.e. Shahdara, Ravi Bridge, Thokar Niaz Baig and on Kasur Road, the traffic as well as the district police would be able to properly man the places and no such incident would happen in the future.