Looking out from the western end of Male’, it does not seem as though much work is ongoing for the bridge. Apart from a few pillars raised up in the sea, there is little indication this is a bridge.
This is perhaps why many seem to be saying that there are delays in the Thilamale’ Bridge project.
But driving along the road leading to where the bridge is to be, or visiting any of the work sites show an entirely different picture. Including on sea, there are a total of seven work sites, where work is ongoing 24/7 on different parts of the bridge. They are working on various parts simultaneously.
Delays? Yes. Late? No.
It's a common misconception among people that the deadline given to Afcons to complete the Male’-Vilimale’ segment of the Thilamale’ Bridge expires ahead of the presidential elections in September.
This might be due to officials on various occasions stating work would be complete by July or August. It could also be how the situation makes most sense when considered from a political aspect.
Afcons meanwhile have assured that they will meet all the set deadlines.
After taking on the project in August 2021, the company’s initial tasks involve conducting all the necessary surveys and studies on the bridge site, design works, setting up a huge freecasting set up in Gulhifalhu and all other prep work.
Following this, in November 2022, they began putting together the test piles, and so far, of the required 68 pillars, almost 40 have been completed. Only about four have no work done yet, and they are pillars that would be placed in the deepest waters.
The bridge pillars consist of piles that start underwater, and piers that have a place atop. Some of the pillars close to Villimale’ are now prepared to place pile caps. After that the piers will be placed.
All the reclamation to build the roads in Gulhifalhi, Thilafalhu and Villimale’ have been completed. Road construction will be started as soon as the sand sets.
Freecasting work that began four months back has produced 70 segments, which are piled neatly in Gulhifalhu. They are all set to be linked on to the frame of the bridge three months from now.
The next deadline Afcons need to catch up to is December 2023. That is the official deadline set for the completion of the Male’-Vilimale’ segment.
Conversing with the workers revealed difficulties they faced from the very first day, due to the currents in the area during the Hulhangu monsoon. Moreover, they faced some delays during the time when Omicron was spreading.
Nevertheless, Afcons is in high spirits, and considering the work done panning over the last two years, they are confident in finishing close to the deadline. Even if it is delayed, they do not intend to let it go past two or three months.
A question on quality?
As soon as the bridge platform ran aground on Vilimale’ reef in 2022, and the incident involving the crane raised many questions about the quality of the work.
Those involved in the project say that when working on building a seven kilometer bridge with 20-25 cranes on the platform at a time, an incident or two of this nature is more than likely to occur.
This is not the first instance Maldivians are witnessing the making of an over water bridge. Unlike Sinamale’ Bridge, there is no temporary bridge structure to be seen at the time of construction. This alone created many questions.
However, once you get close enough to a platform working on the pillars, those questions are answered as well.
The “Mahaarani” platform currently working on the 12th pillar of the bridge has its legs dug deep under water. The stamps used to make piles have been placed after drilling 20 meters, and are all set to pour the concerte in. A concrete batching plant lays close by.
This is how all the pillars except those closest to the temporary bridge platform from Villingili side, will be made. This decreases the environmental impact a temporary platform may cause and it does not compromise the quality.
A team of 48 from Arup - independent consultancy firm appointed by the Ministry of Planning keep a watchful eye on the materials, techniques and the results used by Afcons. They ensure the standards are met at every stage. From the materials, to each concrete batch, precast segments and the working environment as well.
Notably, this is the same firm that worked alongside the Sinamale’ Bridge project as well.
While such a watchful eye is on their work, Afcons work without skipping a single step. The engineer leading the project is the same person who was the chief engineer on the project to build the highest arc bridge in the world, across the Chenab river in the Himalaya mountains. By his side are experts who worked in various large scale projects by Afcons in India and Middle East.
Day and night, on seven different sites, they are all working towards one goal. To meet the date set in stone for the complete on bridge - May 2024, without compromising on quality at any stage.
They all assure on delivering on time, with quality.