By Kendal Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 10, 2009 - Traffic is moving again across Anbar province's strategic and essential Mujarrah Canal Bridge, about 22 miles southwest of Fallujah. The bridge officially reopened June 8 after a $1.26 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Gulf Region Central District project to restore it.
The bridge is a critical link in the supply route of sand and gravel trucks transiting the area for building growth in a more secure Fallujah, project engineers from the Central District's Fallujah Resident Office said.
The bridge is vital to travelers as well as military forces in the remote area, Iraqi engineer Mohannad said at the opening. Originally built by the Chinese in 1983, the eastern bridge span collapsed after a suicide bomber detonated a truck loaded with explosives on it in 2007.
With the span destroyed, the resulting alternate earthen-dam routes over the canal were cumbersome and frequently inaccessible because of canal flows between Lake Habbaniyah to the north and south to Lake Razazah. The Mujarrah Canal connecting the two lakes is an important source of irrigation flow for farmlands in Anbar province, but is not easily traversed because of its unusual depth.
"Everyone in Multinational Force West is glad to have the bridge opened," said Marine Capt. Michael Vanderweide, 223rd Engineer Platoon commander. "It will help get convoys through here, and is much safer than having them go through the town in a bypass route. [It] makes a significant difference for all concerned."
Interest in the project began in 2008 when the Mujarrah sheik met with Fallujah Resident Office officials and Marines on several occasions. Navy Cmdr. Larry Wooster, then the officer in charge of the Fallujah office, asked for advice from his civilian office back at the California Department of Transportation, where he works as a structural engineer. The recommendations from that consultation helped the project develop to a successful construction conclusion, officials said.
Army Maj. James Benning, another bridge expert and former officer in charge of the Fallujah office, left in May, just missing the project's completion.
The Fallujah office's current officer in charge, Navy Lt. Christopher Allen, praised Allen's efforts at the ceremony.
"My predecessor, Major Benning, would have loved to see this bridge opened up again, as an important supply route, but also to make life easier for all the Iraqis in the area," he said. "It's good for everybody."
The Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division has completed hundreds of projects in the transportation and communication sector since 2004, including 249 village road projects, and has 20 projects ongoing.
(Kendal Smith works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division's Gulf Region central district.)