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MUZAFFARABAD, Dec 1: Delay in the completion of a pivotal bridge in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) capital has led to massive traffic jams and has greatly inconvenienced residents.

“Because of the delay in the project, the town is experiencing the worst traffic jams, and patients and students are suffering in particular. We will draw the attention of Prime Minister Sharif towards our plight through a peaceful protest,” said the president of Markazi Anjuman-i-Tajran Shaukat Nawaz Mir on Sunday.

He said the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) and other authorities had paid no heed to the issue.

Therefore, the traders’ association announced to stage a sit-in on the eastern side of the bridge on Tuesday when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visits to preside over the AJK Council’s budget session.

Construction work on the ‘Earthquake Memorial Bridge’ was to be completed by December 31 this year. However, the contractor recently suspended all work citing non-payment of dues, Dawn has learnt.

Designed by the Japanese organisations Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and Nippon Koei, the Rs1.382 billion project will help ease traffic congestions here by connecting Naluchi and Chattar neighbourhoods on the banks of River Jhelum.

The earthquake resistant bridge is being constructed at a height of 84metres above the river and hence is invulnerable to floods.

The western portion (towards Naluchi) and eastern portion (towards Chattar) of the bridge measure 168 and 60 metres in length respectively, whereas the middle portion measures 246 metres. Its width, including walkways on both sides, is 15 metres.

Similarly, a Western Bypass will be constructed which begins from Naluchi side of the bridge and joins the Neelum valley road near Chehla Bandi.

The National Highway Authority (NHA) is working on the project on behalf of Erra.

Officials of NHA, on condition of anonymity, said assurance that the remaining funds would be provided for the completion of the project was a major concern.

The whole project, after hitting many snags, started in May 2009 and was to be completed in 33 months (by January 2012), they said. However, it met delays due to three main issues: cash flow, acquisition of land and the February 2010 flood from Zalzal Lake.

According to the officials, cash flow had been at its worst in fiscal year 2012-13 and continued in the ongoing 2013-14.

This had adversely affected progress on the project.

“Had the funds been made available in time, the bridge would have become operational much before October 2013,” an official said.

Almost 90 per cent of the work was complete, he added.

The NHA officials were uncertain when the bridge would be inaugurated for traffic, stating that it could take at least four months after clearance of outstanding dues.