Bridge cave-in fuels corruption fears

SHANGHAI – Local authorities in East China’s Zhejiang province have admitted that safety problems and design defects have dogged the bridge that partially caved in on Friday, as suspicions grow about the role of corruption in the shoddy project.

Chen Wei, head of Hangzhou Transportation Bureau, said on Saturday that the collapse on the approach span of the No 3 Qiantang River Bridge, suggested that the project has safety problems. One man was injured during the collapse.

“Further investigation is needed to determine how (these problems and defects) came about, and whether they occurred all of a sudden or developed over a long period of time,” the official said.

The official, taking questions on the sidelines of a meeting to determine what caused the collapse and how to deal with the caved-in section, also dismissed claims that the 5.7-km-long bridge had not passed a quality check.

However, the bridge was only approved for use a year and a half after it was completed in 1997.

A 12-person panel, including national-level experts from Beijing, has been set up to determine the causes of the collapse. Traffic has resumed on the main section of the road while the collapsed part has been cordoned off.

Hangzhou has been carrying out a one-month safety check across the city on transportation infrastructure since Saturday, including roads, bridges, tunnels and traffic projects under construction.

The collapse comes a day after another bridge in nearby Fujian province caved in, killing one person and injuring 22.

These incidents have once again raised concerns about the corruption that dogs China’s vast public-works projects.

In addition to concerns that the bridge was constructed by a contractor which has had two other projects collapse in the past, the public has been saying online for a long time that government vehicles have never used the bridge due to safety concerns and that the local economic planning body had listed the bridge as dangerous.

The dismissal of two senior figures linked to the bridge in the past several years added to the public’s unease about the project.

Zhao Zhanqi, the previous chief of Zhejiang transportation department and deputy director of the No 3 Qiantang River Bridge project, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for taking more than 6 million yuan ($930,000) in bribes.

Prosecutors said that he took bribes by himself or through acquaintances during the bidding process and construction of the bridge, which occurred between 1994 and 2006.

Ye Defan, the previous vice-mayor of Hangzhou and a director of the bridge project, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in 2001 for taking 90,000 yuan in bribes.

Minutes of government meetings also showed that the bridge had design defects, and major maintenance had to be conducted less than nine years after it was completed. But the shoddy workmanship and use of inferior materials plagued the project during its maintenance between 2005 and 2006.

A minute from an internal meeting of the local transportation bureau showed that an impropriate ratio of sand was used during the maintenance process, causing cracks on the surface of the bridge’s major section.

Authorities had also failed to implement a ban on the use of the bridge by trucks, a measure to protect it after it was completed.

The driver, surnamed Xu, who was driving a truck over the bridge when it collapsed and was forced to jump from the vehicle to safety, said that his vehicle was 66 tons overloaded with steel plates. Xu said it was common for other truck drivers to use the bridge to cut transport costs.

The surveillance camera installed on the bridge shows that more than 7,300 trucks weighing more than 30 tons have crossed the bridge so far this year, with about 1,200 of them weighing more than 100 tons.

The bridge’s management said truck drivers always use the bridge at night when traffic police officers were not on duty.

Source: China Daily

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