It was a nightmare of sorts for motorists and commuters in Port Harcourt on Sunday. For several hours, there was serious traffic disorder in the Rivers State capital, arising from the sudden collapse of a section of G. U. Ake/Airport Road Flyover Bridge on the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway intersection.
Besides the traffic jam that held vehicular movement to a standstill along the Port Harcourt Aba Express way and Eliozu/Rukpokwu/Airport Road, virtually all the link roads in the city witnessed heavy traffic.
In spite of the heavy downpour that made the weather chilly, motorists were soaked with sweat while trying to negotiate from one road to the other, while many commuters who defied the rainfall and severe flood on the roads, resorted to trekking long distances before boarding vehicles to their various destinations.
Following the incident, officials of the State Traffic Management Agency (TIMARIV), Traffic Police and Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC) quickly cordoned off all the link roads to the flyover, and as well diverted human and vehicular traffic to and from the area to other link roads. Vehicles from the Isaac Boro Park/Rumuola axis of Port Harcourt – Aba Expressway enroute Rumuomasi/Artillery were diverted through Mama Bee Road to Stadium Road, while those from Eleme Junction/Artillery to Rumuola/Isaac Boro Park were made to pass through either Artillery/Old Aba Road or Rumuomasi Market Junction/Elekahia Road.
The Tide investigations show that the bridge which had suffered technical defects finally caved in around 2.00 pm following a torrential rainfall that lasted for about five hours. The flyover bridge was constructed seven years ago by the Bulletin Construction Company Limited, and it has since taken traffic off Stadium Road, Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway, Eliozu/Rukpokwu/Airport Road and other roads that witnessed traffic congestion.
Following the discovery of technical defects on the bridge, arising from poor quality job execution by Bulletin, the Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi administration awarded contract for the rehabilitation of the bridge and reconstruction of the entire section of the G. U. Ake Road to Reynolds Construction Company Limited (RCC).
Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi , during an unscheduled inspection of the bridge yesterday blamed poor quality job for the incident. He, however, assured that speedy and permanent solution would be given to the bridge whose retaining wall partly caved in.
The governor who was accompanied by Commissioners of Works, Transport and Information, Chief Victor Giadom, Hon, George Tolofari and Mrs Ibim Semenitari respectively debunked the report that the whole bridge collapsed.
According to him, what collapsed was the retaining wall, and not the bridge itself “I walked past the bridge now and it is only the retaining wall that fell. Government is negotiating and going through due process to ensure that we get the correct price for the construction of the flyover, since the last contractor did not do a very good work.
“And there is need to reconstruct the entire embankment to the bridge and redirect the traffic as an emergency now,” he said.
Noting that a total reconstruction of the bridge is necessary as a long term measure to direct traffic off Aba Road, Amaechi hinted that the state government has begun talks with RCC to handle the reconstruction once the cost of other specifications are approved.
Shortly after the inspection, the State Commissioner for Works, Chief Victor Giadom at a joint press briefing he held with his Transport and Information counterparts, denied claims that the bridge was neglected by the Amaechi administration.
Blaming the collapse of the retaining wall of the bridge on poor job execution by Bulletin Construction Company, Giadom said the state had, before the incident contracted out the repair of the bridge to RCC.
According to him, RCC had already concluded the deep soil test in respect of the bridge.
Although, he admitted that no structural repair had been carried out on the bridge since it was constructed six years ago, the Works Commissioner corroborated Governor Amaechi’s claim that the bridge itself was in order, except the retaining walls of its approach.
The Commissioner for Transport, Hon. Tolofari, who also spoke during the press briefing, directed that the bridge be temporarily closed to traffic, while vehicular movement are diverted to other routs pending the repair of the entire bridge. Heavy duty vehicles, he stated would be diverted to Rumuokoro and Rumuola axis.
Meanwhile, Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mrs Ibim Semenitari has debunked claims that the bridge was constructed by Amaechi’s administration.
According to her, the affected bridge was constructed by Dr Peter Odili’s administration and was commissioned in 2006.
She argued that all the projects under Amaechi’s administration followed due process and were in line with the globally accepted standards.
Meanwhile, many people have called on the state government to take all necessary actions against Bulletin Construction Company for its negligence and poor quality job on the bridge.
A Port Harcourt based Structural Engineer, Mr Bright Edem said it was criminal of Bulletin that the construction it carried out in less than seven years has started caving in. He questioned the professionalism of the company, just as he blamed the state government for not carrying out a repair work on the bridge before now.
“It is very criminal of Bulletin Construction Company to embark on such a shoddy construction of a bridge that is valuable to human lives. What if the bridge had collapsed when vehicles were passing through it? I think the state government should probe Bulletin.
“But again, I blame the state government for not taking note of such structural defaults on time. And if they did, why didn’t they carryout a repair work on it before now? They should stop playing with peoples lives.
Many commuters who spoke with The Tide expressed gratitude to God that no life was lost as a result of the incident. They, however, appealed to the state government to as a matter of urgency, put the bridge back to shape, to avoid prolonged traffic congestion in the state.
As at yesterday when The Tide visited the scene of the incident, it was observed that part of the flyover, especially the Stadium Road axis had been washed away by flood.
It was also observed that the incident has created some traffic snare in some areas of Port Harcourt which now serve as routes for both private and commercial vehicles.
Boye Salau, John Bibor