Five farmers built a pontoon bridge spanning the Thach Han River in Trieu Do Commune, Trieu Phong District in Quang Tri Province, located in central Vietnam. Although locals traveling through the bridge must pay a toll, they have no complaints.
The 'build-operate-transfer' (BOT) project has played its vital role for 20 years.
A necessary bridge
The five farmers are now more than 50 years old.
Nguyen Khac Minh, 56, among the five farmers, said our project aims to serve the community and the fee bothers no one.
One morning in late August, the bridge spanning the Thach Han River was crowded as usual.
Most of the passers-by were bringing vegetables and fresh fish to Dong Ha Market in Dong Ha City, the capital of Quang Tri, for sale.
Khanh, who has been a vendor at the market for 20 years, said 'hi' to a person in charge of collecting fees on the bridge and paid VND3,000 (US$0.12).
Khanh said Trieu Do Commune is four kilometers from Dong Ha City.
Before the pontoon bridge was built, locals in the commune had to take a boat to travel to Dong Ha or go to Ai Tu Village to reach a 34-kilometer national highway leading to the city.
But the distance was shortened to 10 kilometers thanks to the pontoon bridge.
It helps Trieu Do people save time and save on fuel costs as well.
Khanh added, “We are happy to pay a fee for the maintenance of the bridge. All are grateful for the bridge.”
The Thach Han River is a source of livelihood for Trieu Do people but a barrier against them.
Some poor students in Trieu Do had to give up their schooling because they could not pay for lodging in Dong Ha while the commune was so far away that they could not travel between their houses and school every day.
In 2002, the five farmers including Le Van Dien, Le Dinh Uynh, Le Van Quy, Phan Khac Minh, and Truong Dang Due decided to build the pontoon bridge for Trieu Do people to travel to Dong Ha easily.
“When my friends and I built the bridge, I was just 36 years old," Minh said.
"Everyone had to travel to Dong Ha on small boats which were always full of people, goods, and vehicles.
“It looked so dangerous. That was why we built the bridge.”
The pontoon bridge project drew public attention.
Vu Trong Kim, Party secretary of Quang Tri Province at that time, even called them to confirm the information.
Truong Dang Due, among the five farmers, answered the call.
The Party secretary then went to Trieu Do Commune to meet the five farmers. After they presented their project to him, he totally agreed with them.
Although many pontoon bridges were constructed, they spanned small rivers and Thach Han was a lot larger.
The five farmers created their own bridge design to submit to the Quang Tri Department of Transportation
The department did not approve their project.
In 2002, they went to Hanoi to submit their project to the Inland Waterways Administration under the Ministry of Transportation.
As the administration was convinced by their enthusiasm, some officials were assigned to examine the location.
After one year, all procedures and bridge design were completed.
The five farmers then began work on the pontoon bridge.
|The 240-meter pontoon bridge shortens the distance between Trieu Do Commune and Dong Ha City in Quang Tri Province, central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre
“Everything was perfect except the cost. We estimated an investment of VND750 million [US$31,976] but it increased to more than VND1.2 billion [$51,162]," Minh said.
“The amount was very huge to us. Each of us contributed VND270 million [$11,501] to the project.”
However, they continued the project for the Trieu Do people.
On the day when the bridge was opened to traffic, the five farmers felt happy seeing students traveling on it.
Instead of covering 34 kilometers, the students only had to go four kilometers to Dong Ha City.
The toll for the bridge is VND2,000 ($0.08) for motorbikes and VND1,000 ($0.04) for bicycles.
Students and teachers did not need to pay the toll but all agreed that they would pay VND20,000 ($0.85) per month, which is lower than what they paid for the boat trips before, said Minh.
Accepting losses to rebuild the bridge
The pontoon was totally damaged by a storm in 2020. Quang Tri Province decided to build a reinforced-concrete bridge worth hundreds of billions of dong to replace the ravaged one.
However, the Trieu Do people had to wait for two to three years to have a new bridge, as Quang Tri Province and the provincial Department of Transportation answered the five farmers when they asked about the new bridge.
They therefore accepted losses to build the new bridge.
Le Van Dien, 75 at that time, withdrew from the project as he could not pay the bank loan. But Truong Van Dung, 55, joined the team.
They took out a loan of over VND2.7 billion ($115,123) to build the new bridge. They knew that they could not recoup their investment in a short time, Dung shared.
Minh said the pontoon bridge could handle motorbikes, bicycles, and rickshaws but not cars.
“We hope that the bridge will end its role soon, which means the Trieu Do people will have a stronger bridge,” Minh said.
Nguyen Truong Thanh is among the students using the first pontoon bridge in Trieu Do.
Thanh said the pontoon bridge helped them go to school easily.
“I really appreciate what they did for us. For me, the bridge is a happy 'BOT' project,” said Thanh.
Vo Van Hung, chairman of the Quang Tri People’s Committee, said he appreciated the farmers.
"What they did made people’s life in Trieu Do Commune better," he said.
"The new reinforced-concrete bridge will be built as soon as possible in Trieu Do."