Collapsed Twice In 13 Months: How Rs 1,710 Crore Under­-Construction Bihar Bridge Was Mired In Design Challenges


On 4 May, a 200-metre superstructure of the under-construction Aguani Ghat-Sultanganj bridge spanning the Ganga River in Bihar suffered a collapse, mirroring a previous incident involving the same bridge just over a year ago.

The 3.16-kilometre-long bridge being built in a hybrid structure with pre-stressed concrete supported by extra-dosed cable was to connect Aguani in Khagaria district with Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district.

Designed by North American consulting firm McElhanney, it was conceptualised as a 30-span bridge featuring extradosed spans and a high level observatory to offer visitors a unique view of the Ganga River’s majesty.

The bridge was designed to carry two lanes of traffic and a footpath, providing an important new link across the Ganges; bisecting Bihar from west to east, the bridge will help to ease heavily-congested traffic on the state’s three existing road bridges.

SP Singla Constructions Limited is currently building this four-lane bridge for the Bihar Pul Nirman Nigam Limited (BRPNNL) at a total cost of Rs 1,710.77 crore.

Reports said four superstructures with a total length of 192 metres between Pillar number 9 and 13 sank into the river waters. The moment when the bridge collapsed was caught on video by locals.

Earlier on 30 April 2022, 38 superstructures suspended from pier number 5 had collapsed due to the impact of storm and rains that lashed the area.

The caving of the bridge was attributed to loose cable stand whereas a section of people had blamed use of poor construction material for the 2022 mishap.

Deliberate Destruction

The bridge collapse again after 13 months started political slugfest, with the opposition blaming corruption behind the incident, whereas the Bihar government said that the collapsed part was anyway planned to be pulled down because experts had flagged design flaws in the structure.

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav and Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) of Road Construction Department (RCD), Pratyay Amrit, held a press conference on Sunday night explaining the chain of events.

“It may be recalled that a portion of this bridge had collapsed on April 30 last year. We had, thereafter, approached IIT-Roorkee to investigate the incident,” Yadav said.

“IIT-Roorkee was asked to find the technical reason for the incident and to review the entire design to understand the forces and stresses on all components of the final system and during construction stages,” Yadav added.

Based on the preliminary report, the state government got all 54 segments of the fifth pillar demolished and all other spans were under examination.

However, the state government believed that the entire design was structurally inconsistent and was planning to get the rest of the structure demolished as part of a preventive exercise, once, the final report from IIT was received.

During a review meeting with the contractor held on 14 December 2022, the design firm McElhanney was of that cracks are not affecting the safety of the bridge and are non-structural and hence, it must be retained.

In essence, while McElhanney defended its design, IIT-Roorkee in its preliminary finding argued for removal of the entire span.

The IIT on its part, is expected, to handover the report, titled, ‘Structural Audit and Testing of Entire Segment’ to the state government in a week’s time, after taking on-board the comments of the designer of the project.

Contractor Blacklist

The state government will now get back to the drawing board, with the bridge getting a new design. Based on fresh tenders, the work on the new bridge is expected to start in three months.

Further, the government may blacklist the private contract company for the design fault. The contractor has repeatedly maintained that there was no issue with the bridge’s design.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a probe into the bridge collapse and asked the ACS to identify those responsible and take stern action against them.

The Project

Described as Nitish Kumar’s dream project, the foundation stone of the bridge was laid by him on 23 February 2014 at Parbatta in Khagaria district, with the actual construction work starting in March 2015.

The 23.16-km project includes 3.16-km bridge over Ganga, an approach road of 4-km on Sultanganj side and 16-km at another end in Khagaria.

The bridge will not only feature India’s longest extradosed spans but also a high level observatory which will offer visitors a unique view of the Ganga River’s majesty.

The Aguani Ghat bridge will be the second bridge across Ganga in Bhagalpur district and the sixth on the Ganga to connect northern part of the state with the south.

The bridge, once completed, would significantly reduce travel time between Bhagalpur and Khagaria, Saharsa, Madhepura and Supaul.

During a site inspection in January 2019, Chief Minister Kumar had asked BRPNNL to complete this bridge by March 2020. He specifically said this because the bridge holds great importance in order to reduce the load on the Vikramshila bridge near Bhagalpur.

However, the deadline was extended four times and the project was scheduled to be inaugurated by the year-end after the deferred deadlines. With the latest incident, the fate of the bridge hangs in balance, and this delay is only adding to the agony of the people.

Veer Kunwar Singh Setu

McElhanney and SP Singla had earlier successfully partnered in design and construction of Veer Kunwar Singh Bridge that opened in June 2017.

The construction work on the 4.35 km Veer Kunwar Singh Bridge began in 2013. After the originally proposed design had to be altered to meet the project deadline, McElhanney proposed an extradosed system in the navigation spans combining stay-cable technology with girder system.

The bridge, that significantly reduced the commute from Northern to Southern Bihar by four hours, earned a 2018 ACEC-BC Award of Merit in the Transportation & Bridges category and a 2018 Award of Merit from the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC).