Iconic Vic Falls Bridge runs its course

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Govt mulls construction of new, iconic modern bridge
Tawanda Musarurwa
The Victoria Falls Bridge is a significant trade gateway that economically links Africa’s southern countries with their northern counterparts.The bridge is like a umbilical cord feeding life to economies north and south of the Zambezi River.  It is the only railway link between trading partners Zimbabwe and Zambia, and the only corridor across the Zambezi River in the region.

But it’s also a landmark in the resort town of Victoria Falls . . . after the stunning falls themselves, the Victoria Falls Bridge is said to be the second most visited feature of the resort town, which is saying a lot about the bridge.

Tourists go to the bridge for the bungee jumping experience, which although not the highest is certainly rated as probably the world’s best.

Others go to the bridge for its historical significance. Historians claim that the Victoria Falls Bridge was constructed to help execute Cecil John Rhodes’ “Cape-to-Cairo” railway line vision over a century ago. The bridge was constructed to span the Zambezi Gorge, which was then an extensive natural barrier for the Cape to Cairo Railway Line.

The Victoria Falls Bridge was constructed in England circa 1904-5. It was designed by George Hobson of Sir Douglas Fox and Partners.

Earlier in 1903 Rhodesia Railways had awarded the contract for the construction of the bridge to The Cleveland Bridge Company of Darlington, England. The whole bridge was fabricated in England and then shipped in parts to the port of Beira, Mozambique and then transported by rail to Victoria Falls. It’s iconic to say the least, and it will remain so.

Economic significance
of the bridge

Even from the idea of its construction, the Victoria Falls Bridge was supposed to be a critical economic infrastructure — a trade link.

In a forward for Ewart Scott Grogan and Harry Sharp’s book “From Cape to Cairo”, Rhodes made it clear that the Victoria Falls Bridge was economic-oriented.

“ . . . everyone supposes that the railway is being built with the only object that a human being may be able to get in at Cairo and get out at Cape Town.

“This is, of course, ridiculous. The object is to cut Africa through the centre, and the railway will pick up trade all along the route. The junctions to the East and West coasts, which will occur in the future, will be outlets for the traffic obtained along the route of the line as it passes through the centre of Africa. At any rate, up to Bulawayo, where I am now, it has been a payable undertaking, and I still think it will continue to be so as we advance into the far interior.”

Initially owned by Rhodesia Railways, the Victoria Falls Bridge is now run by the Emerged Railways Properties (Pvt) Ltd, an interstate company jointly owned by the Governments of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Perhaps the most significant economic activity at the bridge is represented by the ever present haulage trucks that traverse the bridge on a daily basis.

And in December last year, the Emerged Railways Properties said the toll fees (aimed at raising funds to sustain the bridge) would come into effect from January 1, 2018. The toll fees would see haulage trucks paying $30 while buses and mini buses which are mostly used by tour operators on a daily basis will fork out $7 and $5 per entry respectively. Heavy vehicles are now parting with $10 while taxis and small vehicles below 2 tonnes are exempted.

But with economic growth over the years, the bridge’s basic utility has run its course.

In with the new . . .

In light of this, Chinese construction giant, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has submitted a proposal to the Zimbabwean Government for the construction of a new bridge in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

But of late it has been unable to meet the increasing traffic demand owing to limited capacity.

In its project proposal, CCCC said “the construction of Victoria Bridge not only will affectively improve capacity across the Zambezi River, facilitate passenger and cargo transportation in the surrounding areas, promote the development of regional tourism, but will also play a significant role in strengthening regional ties and promoting regional economic development.”

CCCC was one of the Chinese companies that met with President Mnangagwa in China last week with expressions of interest in investing in Zimbabwe.

CCCC Limited is a publicly-traded, multinational engineering and construction company primarily engaged in the design, construction and operation of infrastructure assets, including highways, bridges, tunnels, railways, subways, airports, and marine ports. The company has come up with at least three models for the proposed bridge; namely, the ‘Wing Bridge’, the ‘Flying Bird Bridge and the ‘Rainbow Bridge’.

The Wing Bridge is a single-tower composite Girder Cable-Stayed bridge, two-lane road standard with sidewalks. The bridge length is 297m and width is 17,5 metres, and can be transformed into a four-lane bridge.

The Flying Bird Bridge is a twin towers Composite Girder Cable-stayed Bridge, two-lane road standard with sidewalks. The bridge length is 262m and width is 17, 5m. It also has capacity to be transformed into four-lane bridge.

The Rainbow Bridge is a Deck Arch Bridge, two-lane road standard with sidewalks. The bridge length is 208m and width is 13,5m and can also be transformed into a four-lane bridge.

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