India’s First Two Way Acrow Bridge comes up at Sonparyag enroute Kedarnath, Uttarakhand

Chardham Yatra pilgrims will have an easy access to Kedarnath Dham this season as the Bridge at Sonprayag enroute to Kedarnath, washed away twice in the last three years, has now found a more permanent solution with the launching of an ACROW, the new generation emergency bridge.

Acrow Bridge Spanning 60m can take two-way traffic and stands majestically 5 metres above the High Water Level, to serve as a reliable crossing for the next 80 years, meeting National Highway specifications. Constructed in less than a month, it is ready for the Kedarnath Yatra season starting this May, giving a big boost to commercial activity in the region and demonstrating a faster and more dependable response to emergency situations – a first in the country.

The bridge constructed on Mandakini river between Sonprayag and Gaurikund has been completed in record time of 30 days by US based bridge company Ecrow with the World Bank funding, approval of Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project (URDP) and help from Indian Infrastructure and project consultancy company ICT .

The unprecedented floods in Jun 2013 in the Kedarnath Valley saw the region devastated. While rehabilitation had to address many fronts, reviving the Kedarnath Yatra was possibly the key to restoring faith of the locals in having a secure livelihood once again. Rightly this was given a high priority. The road bridge at Sonprayag was critical to reach Gaurikund from where the final 16 Km trek to Kedarnath begins. This bridge near the confluence of Rivers Mandakini and Songanga was washed away in 2013 and almost 10 m of deposits of silt and rubble changed the contours through which the rivers flowed. Restoration was prompt but temporary. A 27m Bailey Bridge was built by the BRO, limiting traffic to one way and a max load of 12 Tons at the most. Jun 2015 saw another flood, wash away this bridge too. In emergencies, the national response to urgent bridging requirements has been limited to the Bailey Bridge and some supporting equipment for speedy construction that the Army can spare. These are temporary solutions at best.The more permanent solutions take time-like a few years.

The setback due to the Bailey Bridge being washed away was handled better this time by the Uthrakhand Disaster Recovery Project. While launching a second Bailey Bridge, they also fast-tracked options for a more permanent solution being explored through professional consultants, with World Bank Funding. This resulted in the 60m span ACROW Bridge coming up in record time. This bridge is in fact the new generation variant of the II World War vintage Bailey Bridge. It is developed on robust and time tested concept of the Bailey Bridge. It has standardized bridge parts which can be assembled in-situ. Trusses with pin joints facilitate quick assembly. The bridge is constructed and boomed out with a light nose, carefully balanced on rollers ensuring adequate counterweight like the Bailey Bridge. However, this bridge is far superior in capacity and performance.

The ACROW parts are fabricated with superior steel. They are designed better for heavier contemporary traffic loads to meet National Highway specifications of two lane and three lane bridges. Use of commonly available machines for construction reduces manpower and time. The dip galvanized finish gives the structure longer life required for a permanent bridge. For long, this kind of bridge has been recommended as a New Generation Emergency Bridge various experts world wide . The viability has more than been demonstrated now by launching it in one of the more technically challenging sites, in remote and very rugged terrain.

“The site for launch posed many challenges. The recent floods demanded raising the bridge by almost 7m which meant a minimum span of 60m. The history of floods demanded elaborate protection works. The bridge had to be tucked away from rock slides and moved away from the confluence which meant preparing approaches by cutting into hard rock. The maximum backspace for construction was only 22m, which required a specialized launch. The logistic exercise of transporting a bridge to Sonprayag 250 Kms from Rishikesh was no simple matter. With all these challenges the dead line for the Yatra this season had to be met.” Said Mr K K Kapila, Chairman International Road Federation and Also Chairman Infra project consultancy company ICT .

What is in place today, is an ACROW bridge, shipped from New Jersey, USA in two months flat from the time the Letter of Credit was signed with the UDRP. The bridge parts moved by container ship to Bombay, and then by train to the Inland Container Depot Tuglakabad and then by road to Rishikesh on container lorries. Transshipment by smaller trucks was required for the last leg to Sonprayag. In all, it was a mind boggling logistic exercise carried out to military precision, thanks to the equipment being designed for such movement and some fine team work between the logistic team, the PWD and the Consultants. The bridge arrived by Oct 15, but launch could be started only in early Feb 2016 due to the elaborate civil works the site demanded, including constructing a temporary intermediate pier for launching because of restricted back space.

The bridge was launched in thirty days. The restricted space, inclement weather and terrain added to the time. On a simpler site, it could have been managed in two weeks. What we have now is a bridge with roadway, 5.5m, capable of taking two-way traffic for 70 R loading which allows single loads of up to 100 Tons along with walkways on both sides for crowded loading.

The cost of the bridge compares favorably with the single lane Bailey Bridge considering it allows two lane traffic and more than double the maximum load, a four-fold advantage over the vintage, II World War bridge. The life of the bridge being double is an added bonus. The speed of launch more than compensates the cost when compared to other conventional options for permanent bridges. The commercial gains in less than a year will cover the entire cost of the bridge to Kedarnath. On other more important routes in the country, the cost of the bridge could be made up in less than six months by the commercial and economic advantage to the region.

In time construction could be speeded up even further by cutting time on civil works and dovetailing it with the deployment time of the bridge. With that we could see these bridges in place in 3-4 months of placing an order. The cost could also be optimized further by manufacturing in bulk locally, which is the direction to move forward. Appreciating the potential and the demand for such bridges will act as a catalyst to build our infrastructure at a fast pace.

“”It is high time that a bridge such as the ACROW is used to help speed up infrastructure construction in critical situations, and as is the case of the ACROW bridge to Kedarnath, demonstrating its versatility under extremely challenging conditions. The bold decision of the UDRP team, ably supported by the World Bank and the State administration with timely and innovative advice from their Project consultants, ICT, is note worthy.” Added Mr Kapila .