In the last decade, the government spent a staggering Tk28,000 crore to ease traffic congestion in Dhaka. But the net result is that the average speed of motor vehicles in the city has come down to 4.5 kilometres per hour – which is less than the walking speed.
About 12 years ago, average motor vehicle speed in the city was 21 kilometres per hour, according to a study of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
This is a reflection of how a Dhaka-centric growth model pursued over the last decade has turned living in the city into an urban nightmare because of an absence of city planning and vision.
Swanky cars of every brand from Audi to BMW to Rover now hog the Dhaka streets, mostly sitting still when not crawling at painstakingly low speed. The ride hailing service of Uber has made the roads even more crammed. Uber has brought back all the run-down cars, which were once phased out of Dhaka, to the city.
Traffic management remains in its usual abysmal state and has actually worsened with so many cars and motorbikes moving at their own will.
In the last one decade, work has commenced on new infrastructures such as the metro rail and elevated expressway. But the benefits accruing from them will only come in the next decade beginning January 1.
The study notes that the nation could have saved Tk22,000 crore a year in terms of productivity if traffic jam could be reduced by 60 percent.
The city would have seen a better result of the government's huge investments in infrastructure had the projects been completed in due time.
The projects that could have saved the city by now had they been implemented within their original deadlines are the Elevated Expressway (deadline 2013), Joydevpur-Bhulta-Madanpur or Dhaka By-pass (deadline 2016), Bus Rapid Transit (original deadline 2020 but progress has significantly been slow) and the Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway (initiated a decade ago with no physical progress so far).
Besides, the government is implementing the 20km metro rail project, which is set to be launched in 2021.
That said, a part of the present heavy congestion is attributed to the construction of the metro rail system because of which many roads have had to be narrowed down or partially closed.
The other reason for the heavy congestion is the government's failure to manage the traffic system – especially the public bus menace. Dhaka's buses and minibuses are notorious for reckless driving and creating obstructions in the traffic movement at every corner.
Any serious action against buses leads to wildcat transport strikes and agitation. Because of such political clout of transport owners and workers, the government could not even revitalise the way the bus companies operate in the city.
Meanwhile, the government-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation added 1,558 buses and 500 trucks to its fleet in the last decade.
An air-conditioned bus service named Dhaka Chaka has been introduced in the capital's Gulshan. In Hatirjheel and Dhanmondi, circular bus services have been introduced.
On 16 buses running on the Abdullahpur-Motijheel route, free Wi-Fi facilities have been provided. However, the conditions of most of these buses have already been compromised.
The traffic jam at the entrance to Dhaka city has decreased with the construction of the four-lane second Kanchpur, second Meghna, and second Gumti bridges on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.
The ongoing road infrastructure projects are:
A 20-year Strategic Transport Plan (STP) project – which was taken up in 2005 by the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority to meet the demand for urban transport in Dhaka city and its adjacent areas – has been modified to cater to demand in present times.
It was also renamed the Revised Strategic Transport Plan (RSTP) 2015-35. The government took the initiative of implementing the metro rail project in 2009 to reduce traffic jam in Dhaka.
The construction of the 20.10km elevated Metro Rail or Dhaka Mass Transit (MRT-6) from Uttara to Bangladesh Bank in Motijheel and vice versa is going on in full swing. With 16 stations, the metro rail will be capable of serving 60,000 passengers per hour from Uttara to Bangladesh Bank and vice versa.
The government wants to open it to the public in 2021 on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the country's independence.
Nevertheless, traffic congestion in Dhaka has intensified due to the project work that started in 2012.
Besides, two more metro rail projects, MRT-1 and MRT-5, were recently approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council. The route of the underground Metro Rail-1 will be from Dhaka airport to Kamalapur via Natun Bazar-Malibagh.
Another route of MRT-1 is from Natun Bazar to Purbachal. It will take Tk51,900 crore to construct the railway.
Additionally, Tk41,261 crore will be spent on the MRT-5 (northern) project. Its route will be Hemayetpur-Aminbazar-Mirpur 1-Mirpur 10-Gulshan-Bhatara.
The government has announced that the construction of the 20km elevated expressway from Dhaka airport to Kutubkhali on Dhaka-Chattogram highway will be completed by 2019.
The elevated expressway is being built under public-private partnership at a cost of Tk8,900 crore. The Bridges Division signed an agreement with the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited on January 19, 2011, to construct the elevated way.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the project on April 30 in that year.
But the work was in limbo for two years due to complexities over acquisition of land. A new agreement with the builder had to be signed in 2013 as prices of construction materials had increased by that time and the design was changed.
But the progress of the construction was slow as the construction firm could not manage the required money.
The Italian-Thai Development Company owns 51 percent of the project, China Shandong International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group owns 35 percent, and Sinohydro owns 14 percent.
China Shandong International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group and Sinohydro have already started to disburse money, according to the Bridges Division.
Joydevpur-Bhulta-Madanpur or Dhaka By-pass
The Joydevpur-Bhulta-Madanpur (Dhaka By-pass) four-lane project got the nod from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on September 12, 2012.
The government's target was to finish it between 2013 and 2016. However, no private investor came forward at the time. In December last year, an agreement was signed by the Department of Roads and Highways and China's Sichuan Road and Bridge Group on the construction of the road.
The work has not started in full swing yet. The project cost has been estimated at Tk3,391 crore. Of the amount, the Bangladesh government will provide Tk224 crore and the Chinese company will come up with the rest of the amount.
The government has set the target for the project to be completed at the year 2022.
Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway
The Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway project was initiated 10 years ago to ease traffic jam but it is yet to be implemented.
The proposal to appoint consultants for the project was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Purchase. However, the project has not got approval from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.
To build the 24km expressway will cost Tk16,901 crore. China will finance the project on a G2G (government to government) basis.
In June next year, a loan agreement with China is likely to be signed in this regard.
The first Bus Transit Development (BRT) project from Gazipur to Dhaka airport started in 2012 and is supposed to be finished by 2020.
Due to the slow progress of work, the stakeholders fear that it will not be finished on time.
Road infrastructure in other parts of the country
Around 450 kilometres of national highways, including 190 kilometres of the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, have been expanded to four lanes in the last 10 years.
Besides, the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway and the Nabinagar-Chandra highway have also been upgraded to four lanes. The 80km marine drive has been built from Cox's Bazar to Teknaf.
Over the decade, a total of 11 flyovers or overpasses and seven underpasses have been constructed. Of those, the six-lane flyover in Mohipal of Feni on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, overpasses in Feni's Fatehpur, Cumilla's Paduar Bazar and Eliotganj, and Chattogram's Kalu Shah Mazar, an underpass in Cumilla Cantonment area, Mawna flyover on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway, Shashongachha flyover in Cumilla, and the flyover connecting Chattogram port are noteworthy.
The risky turning points on the Dhaka-Aricha highway have been straightened to prevent road accidents. Besides, a total of 144 accident-prone points on national highways across the country have been identified and measures have been taken to prevent accidents there.
Work on upgrading the Joydevpur-Tangail-Elenga highway to four lanes is going on with Asian Development Bank aid. Besides, work on developing the highway from Elenga to Rangpur to four lanes, including a service lane, has been going on.
Dhaka-Mawa-Pacchor highway is being developed to four lanes with the help of the Bangladesh Army. Besides, a separate lane will be constructed there. It will be the first expressway of the country.