Severing links with the past

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Hue bridges in danger as authorities consider traffic solutions

The 70-meter-long Kho Bridge across Ngu Ha River

How do you save and preserve bridges that have not only stood the test of time and become national relics but are also utilized by local residents every day?

Hue authorities have the answer. Dismantle it and expand it, while saying things like "we will do our best to preserve its original features."

After two centuries, this is the fate that faces the Vinh Loi and Kho bridges in the Hue Ancient Citadel area, which are still in good condition.

They are about to be taken down and rebuilt as a solution to traffic congestion in Hue.

Additionally, the stone barriers of the 70-meter long Kho Bridge and 40-meter long Vinh Loi Bridge, two of ten old bridges built on the 3.5-kilometer-long Ngu Ha River will be replaced by new ones made of brick and concrete.

The two bridges are among 32 built during the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), only half of which stand today and remain in good condition.

The "transformation" project, which will cost approximately VND20 billion (US$0.96 million) will also include construction that will widen the bridges five meters on each side.

Nguyen Dang Truong, deputy director of the Traffic Investment and Construction Board, said, "The project is considered the best solution because, while widening, the bridges' original design, as much attention as possible will be paid on the issue of preservation."

The board, which functions under the Thua Thien-Hue Department of Transport, is one of two agencies assigned by the central province's People's Committee to carry out further research before the "upgrade."

"If we build new ones next to the two bridges, the number of bridges on Ngu Ha River will increase, and would ruin the relics in general," said Truong, whose board had sent the project to 12 experts and researchers in Hue, as well as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and other concerned agencies, to collect their opinions.

The project has attracted public opposition although it has been unanimously approved by several agencies. Many people have argued that the planned upgrade would deface the world cultural heritage site.

Researcher Mai Khac Ung, former head of the Research Department at the Hue Relics Preservation Center, said that preserving a heritage involves keeping its original structure intact. To say that replacing the barriers and widening the bridges is a way to preserve them is absurd, he said.

Ung said that all relics in the Hue Ancient Citadel were built in harmonious proportions, and as such, bridge widening should go together with the widening of roads and gates, which would mean the whole citadel will be deformed.

Traffic jams involving a national relic and a world heritage site should focus on reducing the population density and limiting the number of unnecessary vehicles, he said.

"How can a relic be destroyed in order to deal with traffic jams?" he asked.

Professor Hoang Dao Kinh, president of the National Architecture Council, a heritage conservation and restoration expert, said the bridges themselves are symbols of technological and artistic achievements of the Vietnamese people in the past.

He said the bridges are unique and incomparable heritages. If the traffic situation has to improve, the solution is to build brand new bridges that will not affect the relic's view, he added.

Phan Van Tuan, deputy director of Hue Relics Preservation Center, the other agency assigned to carry out research on the project, said widening the bridge was just one of five solutions proposed to solve the traffic issue.

The rest include relocating local people living inside the citadel, widening streets and gates in the area, building new bridges, and a traffic separation plan.

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