The history of bridges across Sungai Perak is interesting. Prior to the construction of the Iskandar Bridge (named after Sultan Iskandar, the 30th Sultan of Perak), the only bridges for road traffic were the pontoon structures at Enggor and Belanja, built in 1892 and 1929, respectively. The Enggor bridge during its existence was broken no less than four times by floods and both the Enggor and Belanja bridges were broken by the flood in December 1931, causing serious dislocation of traffic in Perak.
Apparently, as far back as 1912, a suggestion was made to alter the Victoria railway bridge (near Karai) so as to make it suitable for both road and rail traffic, but was not approved by the British Government. In 1913, designs for a permanent bridge at Enggor were called for and in 1914, a vote towards the cost of its construction was entered in the estimates. However, no further steps were taken until 1923, when damage to the pontoon bridge aroused public dissatisfaction again, and in that year new designs were made and with the exception of amendments rendered necessary by the great flood of 1926 followed in the construction of the Iskandar Bridge.
Iskandar Bridge, when completed, was the largest road bridge in Malaya at that time. The bridge has been a familiar institution to motorists traveling on the main road down the peninsula prior to the existence of the North-South Expressway. It was build at Enggor over the Sungai Perak in place of the pontoon bridge which was washed away during a ‘big’ flood in the December 1931. With the opening of the Iskandar Bridge, the old Enggor pontoon bridge became only a memory.
The bridge was designed in London and was built by Messrs. James Craig Ltd, a company registered in Klang. The company was given the contract in April 1928, but owing to the greater depth of foundations found to be necessary the contract time was extended. The bridge is a 928 feet long, made up of seven spans of steelwork mounted on concrete piers and rising sixty feet above the river. Including four thousand feet of approach roads, the total cost of building the bridge was $1,500,000.
During the construction of the bridge, it was reported that the engineering difficulties were considerable. The foundations on the Kuala Kangsar side of the river were good but on the other side the engineers were reported had to go down nearly fifty feet into the river bed before finding a solid rock. The sinking of one caisson was held up for some time by the trunk of a merbau tree forty feet long by five wide which was embedded sixteen feet in the river gravel. This was eventually removed by divers. Another check occurred during the floods in December 1931, when the water rose within a foot of the top of the piers, washed away some temporary steelwork, overturned a five-ton crane and washed away an European engineer and several workmen, all of whom were saved.
The Iskandar Bridge when completed contains nearly fifteen thousand tons of concrete and seventeen hundred tons of steelwork which was manufactured in Britain. A notable fact is that although the locality at that time has a malicious reputation the malaria, incidence among the labour force was only one twenty-eighth of one per cent.
The roadway on the bridge is thirty feet wide between curbs and the approach roads are curved and cambered so as to permit of two-ton vehicles traveling at forty miles an hour (64 km per hour). There was thus a vast improvement over the old arrangement whereby a halt was necessary while traffic coming in the opposite direction crossed the pontoon bridge and was limited to almost a walking speed across the river.
The bridge was officially opened by Sultan Iskandar at 10 a.m. on 29 June 1932. During the event, Sultan Iskandar cut a ribbon stretched across the roadway in the centre of the bridge with a pair of silver scissors presented by Mr. C. Grieve, Managing Director of James Craig Ltd, the contractors who erected the bridge. Then, all the guests adjourned to a marquee erected at the Ipoh end of the bridge where refreshments were served. Sultan Iskandar in his speech expressed his pleasure at the bridge being named after him. Mr. C. Grieve later presented Sultan Iskandar with a silver inkwell shaped like a pier of the bridge. Proposing the Sultan’s health he expressed the hope the house of Iskandar would go from strength to strength and there would be honour peace and prosperity so long as water lowered in the Sungai Perak.
A pontoon bridge or floating bridge is a bridge that floats on water, supported by barge-or-boat-like pontoons to support the bridge deck and its dynamic loads.