Vaisigano Bridge waves in new era for Samoa

By James Robertson 11 August 2020, 11:39PM

Early on Tuesday morning, standing aside from the Vaisigano Bridge, the Chief Executive Officer of the Land Transport Authority (L.T.A.), Galumalemana Ta’atialeoitiiti Tutuvanu Schwalger and her key lieutenants, were seen bidding well wishes to the first motorists to drive through the long-awaited Vaisigano Bridge. 

We can only bid our good wishes in return.

The project that began in 2018 has not been without its difficulties, coinciding, as it has, with the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been road closures; difficulties imposed on businesses, some of whom have been forced to shut due to the accessibility problems closed by construction.

But what is done is done. And the magnitude of Tuesday morning’s achievement for Samoa is difficult to overstate.

The L.T.A. has hailed the bridge as "one step closer to the opening" of a newly developed Apia town centre. We agree.

And we offer our hearty congratulations to Galumalemana for the completion of a project that addresses not only a significant practical need of this country’s industry but which is also a potent symbol of its development. 

The old bridge, which Galumalemana had said would be slated for deconstruction as early as next week, was first assessed as needing reconstruction by the United Nations in as early as the aftermath of 2012 Cyclone Evan.

The old, deteriorated bridge was holding Samoa and its economy back and had been doing so for too long.

For the funding and technical support to achieve its completion, we extend our most sincere gratitude to our Japanese development partners.

Without their provision of funding but also highly sophisticated construction and engineering support such a development would never have been possible. 

The Bridge is, then, a sign of Samoa’s growth in potential and the end of an era where the poor condition of our infrastructure was seriously hampering our economic growth. 

The frequent difficulties encountered by the old bridge in bad weather and its deteriorated condition were a bottleneck on economic activity in Samoa.

By connecting Apia and its industrial area to the Matautu wharf it is an economically vital connecting road. 

Against this backdrop, the recent difficulties associated with the bridge’s construction must pale into significance for what it means for our future and the 100-year timescale to which the project has been designed.

We also saw on Tuesday, the culmination of a significant exercise in goodwill between nations that was based on a substantial contribution to our economy. 

We will not soon forget the gratitude we feel toward Japan for offering us a helping hand at a time of great national need.

Too much of the world of development is divorced from the reality of life on the ground with projects adjudged successful or otherwise by PowerPoint presentations ginned up to satisfy donor agencies after their completion.

Japan’s $43 million in aid is instead something that will make a real contribution to the life of every Samoan, those who benefit from it directly indirectly alike.

Not only was their support extended at a vital time and place it was a much-appreciated display of cooperation and knowledge exchange between our nations.

The Global Environment Facility project also included repairs and reinforcements to the broader Vaisigano River Wall, the overflow of which during catastrophic floods during past cyclones caused catastrophic damage to local businesses and families. 

On Saturday, Galumalemana noted that the 27 months of construction required to complete the project was largely one whose foundation was laid largely by Samoan labour.

And that it was. Local subcontractors Bluebird construction, Capella Pacific construction Samoa and Ott Constructions worked in tandem with Japanese engineers.

But the feat is also a marvel of Japanese technical ability and its joint construction an excellent opportunity for the transfer of knowledge between our two nations. 

The Bridge is 75 metres long, 1.5 metres higher than its predecessor and 20 metres.

Its construction has been made possible only by the sophisticated feats of engineering that underpin it.

These have included the ability to sink the Bridge’s foundation to a depth of 40 metres and to widen and line its footpaths with sophisticated bridge railings to prevent car accidents.

The bridge was also an engineering first in another way. 

Typically the pre-stressed and pre-tensioned concrete beams that make up the bulk of the project are made prefabricated in Japan.

But for the first time for a major piece of infrastructure’s construction, these beams were prefabricated locally.   

Piles of piers and abutments have been cast–in situ. The concrete piles have all been constructed using the casing method, which is the safest and most secure method for bridges designed to lower the vibration and noise during construction.

And so, today, we wave in the celebration of the completion of a project that means so much to our nation; its future; our economic potential and our international friendship. 

By James Robertson 11 August 2020, 11:39PM

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