BANGKOK — City Hall on Tuesday dismissed concerns over the project to build a footbridge and bike lane across Chao Phraya river, after its latest design drew criticism throughout the weekend.
Criticized for its process, design, economic benefit and impact to the environment, Nat Sisukhonthana, director of the Department of Public Work, stepped out to defend that the plan to bridge Tha Prachan and Wang Lang piers had gone through a proper study.
Initiated in 2010, the project never made progress until City Hall revived it last year, spending 49 billion baht to hire consultants to conduct feasibility studies and design the bridge.
The contractor gave four designs before the final model was selected by participants in a December hearing.
In such design, the single-floor, cross-arched pedestrian bridge lacks piers and is about 10 to 15 meters wide.
The project was brought back into the spotlight after City Hall and its consultants held another hearing on Friday to present the revised design.
“People had suggested that it should have two floors,” said Nat’s No.2, Sorachai Tovanichkul on Monday. “So we asked the consultant, whose contract already ended in January, to arrange yet another hearing for the new design.”
The previous design of the walkway that was selected in a December public hearing has one floor and doesn’t need a bridge pier.
In the new blueprint, the nine-meter wide bridge also incorporates escalators and elevators to connect what are now two floors, and requires a concrete bridge pier to be driven into the river as a support for the structure.
The estimated construction cost is about 1.7 billion baht.
Sorachai said it had yet to be determined whether authorities would settle with the new model or use the December design. He could not say when this would be decided.
Bridging Rattanakosin Island to the Thonburi side, the project was overwhelmingly welcome by Thonburi residents, who said they had been waiting to be a part of the city’s development. As seen in a video from Matichon, attendees of the Friday hearing showed their support for the footbridge construction.
During the hearing, Itsaraphon Premkamol, representative of the Maritime and Business Association, raised concerns over having to build concrete pillars in that section of the river, alleging it could lead to accidents, Matichon reported.
Activist group “Friend of the River”, which has been campaigning aggressively against the Chao Phraya promenade project, questioned the footbridge initiative on its transparency and inclusiveness.
“There should be a study on the economic benefits that this bridge will create for the neighborhood,” the group wrote Saturday. “So the society can be assured that it’s worth spending 1.7 billion baht.”
A Landscape architect from the government’s Fine Arts Department said that judging from the design, the landmark could become another eyesore for Bangkok.
“It looks outdated. It neither represents anything about Bangkok nor creates a new identity for the city,” said Pornthum Thumwimol on Tuesday.
Saying he was not against the idea of building a bridge, Pornthum said the project should have studied the planned construction area before the design was drawn – especially given the sensitive characteristics held by this old part of the town.
He suggested City Hall should have arranged an open competition for the bridge design to make the process inclusive and consist of well-rounded inputs.
“We can’t freeze the city we are living in to be at one specific era forever,” he said. “ But if we design the new structure well, it can become a historical place in the future. It can be a representation of our time.”
Nat, the director from City Hall who oversees the project, responded to the criticism Tuesday saying the study already deliberated over the impact the walkway would have on the environment and the historical landscape.
As a safer and faster option to commute to the other side of the town, Nat said the bridge could help transfer patients to Siriraj Hospital quicker, as it’s right next to Wang Lang pier.
He added that the study also showed the return of economic benefits from the bridge – such as employment and tourist spending – would be worth the investment.