The Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, a masterpiece in the heart of Abidjan

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An architectural gem, Abidjan's Henri Konan Bédié (HKB) Bridge is worthy of the most modern of megacities. Officially opened on December 16, 2014, it is an embodiment of the promise for the country's infrastructure. And, looking further afield, for the whole of Africa.

Both a bridge and a highway, this new expressway links the north and south of Abidjan, bringing the districts of Riviera and Marcory closer together. The Henri Konan Bédié Bridge starts at an interchange on Boulevard François Mitterrand in Cocody district, its 1.5 km viaduct crossing the Ebrié lagoon that surrounds Abidjan. On the northern, Cocody side, of the bridge, 10 brand new toll booths mark a crossing point joining the old Bingerville road, the Blingué valley (between the university and the Riviera developments) and the Boulevard de France. On the opposite bank, the Marcory side, with the National Youth and Sports Institute, another interchange curves round to the entry to Avenue Pierre et Marie Curie and the Boulevard Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

The Henri Konan Bédié Bridge will free up its two predecessors, the Houphouët Boigny Bridge (built in the 1950s) and the Charles de Gaulle Bridge (which dates from the late 1960s), which are heavily congested at peak times – and much of the day. Most importantly, by not having motorists drive around the lagoon, the only route up to now, the new bridge will save time and reduce journey distances. For example, going from Riviera to Marcory over the HKB Bridge will take 30 minutes less and will cut out 10 km, compared to the previous situation. People living in Riviera who need to commute to work in Marcory five days a week will save 2,600 kilometres and 260 hours driving time per year. Another major benefit connected with the easing of traffic congestion is the thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions that will be saved. (See infographic.)

A bridge which embodies the country’s progress 

The new "HKB" Bridge as some call it – or simply "The Third Bridge" – took three years to build. But the project is much older than that, featuring in development plans for Abidjan as far back as 1952. Over time the city continued to expand and the traffic became heavier, making it all the more necessary to make this project a reality. And it was on November 14, 1997 that the Government of Côte d’Ivoire signed a concession agreement with the Socoprim company formed for this purpose with Bouygues Group as main shareholder, for it to construct and operate the future bridge. But work (relocation of utility and sanitation networks) had barely begun in 1999 when the military coup that overtook the country in December of that year took place, forcing Socoprim to suspend its activities – indefinitely. The return to peace and the economic upsurge of 2010 sharpened the need to relaunch the project. And, thanks to the advance of funds unblocked by the Ivorian State, works recommenced in 2011.

AfDB funds 20% of project

Meanwhile, new funders became involved in the project: The West African Development Bank (BOAD); the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID), the Moroccan Bank for Foreign Trade (BMCE); the Dutch Development Bank (FMO), and Société Financière Africaine (SFA). The African Development Bank (AfDB) took responsibility for no less than 20% (58 million euros) of the total project cost of 308 million euros.

This achievement consolidates the expertise the Bank has developed in infrastructure beyond country borders, over the whole continent. These projects include the Thika Highway in Kenya and the Dakar-Diamniadio highway in Senegal, which came to fruition through the Bank, illustrating its desire to accelerate infrastructure development in Africa.

In a highly symbolic juxtaposition of dates, the HKB Bridge was opened the very year that the Bank returned its headquarters to Abidjan.

Another feature of this third bridge is that it has been built in a public-private partnership (PPP), an economic model the AfDB has used to leverage resources. And which could inspire other projects. "The result of the partnership between the State and private capital is visible and excellent in every respect," said AfDB Private Sector Department Director Kodeidja Diallo. "The HKB Bridge has been built on time and on budget. This is due to the fact that every stakeholder in this flagship Côte d’Ivoire project, public as well as private, has taken on and managed their share of risk." Kodeidja Diallo added, confidently, "The success of the HKB Bridge project will be a launch pad for other PPP investments in Africa. The AfDB currently has a range of projects in the pipeline that could be financed on the same model and we are holding talks with several private investors and the States concerned."

A gigantic project and construction site

Nonetheless, turning this infrastructure into reality has been no mean task. Far from it. Starting with the requisitioning of heavily populated lands including homes, small businesses, craftspeople and agriculture and grazing – especially in Marcory. It was then necessary to move and relocate all these people – not only once, because the suspension of work during the conflict had led to land freed up in 1998 for the project being reoccupied. The revised resettlement plan for people who had reoccupied project land resolved this matter, in compliance with the standards required by AfDB and other funders. It was also necessary to redevelop areas that posed serious environmental problems, such as Anoumabo Island, a "village" with a population of 27,000 in the heart of Marcory with piggeries in full operation not far from a rubbish dump next to the lagoon. Of course, everyone affected had to be compensated. Other community support actions were undertaken, such as the refurbishment of classrooms. The bottom line was the village that was the birthplace of the band Magic System was transformed with its strip of sand now bordered with coconut trees.

Another major rubbish dump located very close to the future bridge, below the University of Abidjan, had to be filled and removed. This was so that the waste would not flow down the slopes and into the lagoon in the event of heavy rain.

In total, some 2,499 persons were affected by the project and compensated. As for those who were economically active in the project area, mostly small craftspeople and traders, their relocation was the responsibility of the project developers, the Ivorian Government and Socoprim.

A socio-economic revolution on the horizon

Expectations of the HBK Bridge are high, and are not only connected with easing traffic. The whole socio-economic situation of Abidjan should find itself changed – in addition to the hundreds of jobs created during construction. Land developed, districts less isolated and with proper sanitation, improved quality of life, modernised urban development for a more attractive capital city, and more. The finished project has a whole range of positive consequences.

Access to basic social services and infrastructure, such as Cocody University Hospital, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Airport, and Cocody University have been improved for those living in Ile de Petit-Bassam, to the south, and other districts to the north of Abidjan.

The HKB Bridge, one link in a chain of infrastructure and investment

The opening and impact of the new HKB Bridge are just the beginning: in the medium and long terms, this monumental construction will evolve into a vector of industrial development and regional integration thanks to the works and new corridors planned across the country.