Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated the 4.94 km long Bogibeel Bridge in Assam’s Dibrugarh, throwing open India’s longest railroad bridge to traffic 21 years after its foundation stone was laid.

The inauguration of the bridge coincides with the 94th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) observes Atal’s birthday as ‘Good Governance Day’.

Situated 17 km downstream of Dibrugarh and Dhemaji, the bridge over the river Brahmaputra has double-line broad gauge railway tracks on the lower platform and a three-lane road on the upper.

After inaugurating the bridge on the Dibrugarh side, the PM, who was accompanied by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, crossed over to Dhemaji.

Built at a cost of Rs 5,900 crore by the Indian Railways, the bridge will reduce travel time from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh to just four hours. It will also significantly cut down train travel time between Delhi and Dibrugarh by three hours.

The bridge is strong enough to allow movement of main battle tanks of the Indian Army. In fact, the Army stands to gain immensely from the bridge as it shortens the time taken for troop transport from Assam to the India-China border at Arunachal Pradesh.

Earlier, the people in Dhemaji, which is to the north of the bridge, had to travel almost a complete day to reach Dibrugarh. The bridge will now help people travel the same distance in minutes.

The bridge will also help connect residents of the remote districts of Anjaw, Changlang, Lohit, Lower Dibang Valley, Dibang Valley and Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh to Dibrugarh.

It is noteworthy that the bridge took 21 years from when its foundation stone was laid. Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda had laid the foundation stone of the project on 22 January 1997. Work began on 21 April 2002 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government.

The bridge is being hailed as an engineering marvel by Indian standards. The Bogibeel Bridge can serve well for around 120 years. It is India’s only fully-welded bridge constructed under European welding standards. The bridge has 39 girders of 125 meter and two girders of 33-meter span.

Though the bridge was inaugurated today, senior Congress leader and former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki had appealed the PM to defer the ceremony since it falls on Christmas making it difficult for people from Arunachal Pradesh to participate in the historic function.

Read More: Ex-Arunachal Pradesh CM appeals to PM to defer Bogibeel Bridge inauguration

“We are aware that you will be inaugurating the historic Bogibeel Bridge over the river Brahmaputra on December 25 this year. While I congratulate you for the completion of this historic bridge which is of strategic and economic importance to the region, I would at the same time like to request you to kindly defer the said inauguration to any other date as December 25 is Christmas and one of the most important festivals of the Christians,” said Tuki in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister on Thursday.

“If the inauguration of the bridge, which is a boon to the people of Assam and Arunachal, takes place on December 25, a large number of people from the Christian community will not be able to participate in the opening ceremony. Therefore, I request you to defer the date of inauguration and thus enable all sections of people of the region to witness the historic event,” the letter added.

With its inauguration, the Bogibeel Bridge overthrows Kerala’s Vembanad rail bridge, which is 4.62 km long, as longest rail bridge in the country.