Although 60% of the construction work for the Chattogram Elevated Expressway has already been completed, serious flaws in the design have only just begun to emerge.
A big concern is that the Outer Ring Road, Elevated Expressway, Airport Road and Bangabandhu Tunnel all meet at the same junction, but there are no U-loops, U-turns or even service roads. The fears are that vehicles would then be stuck in a huge gridlock, waiting their turns, instead of being able to hop onto the road they need to take.
So while the project was approved to ease traffic congestion, in its current iteration, experts believe it will only add to commuters' woes.
Another major area of contention has been that the 16 kilometre expressway, to be built at a cost of over Tk3,000 crore, was conceptualised without consultation with any other body concerned. According to sources, even the initial feasibility study was done without holding any discussions with the traffic department.
The matter came to a head at a meeting on 26 September 2021, when the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) zeroed in on the future problems stemming from the expressway.
In response, halfway through its construction, the Bangladesh Bridge Authority and the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) decided that the Elevated Expressway would need U-loops and U-turns. Thus, a new blueprint is now being prepared, five years after the project was started.
The CDA had undertaken the expressway project in 2017, with plans for it to span from Lalkhan Bazar to Patenga, near the airport, to ease the traffic congestion in the city.
In 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the project worth Tk3,251 crore.
Soon, the errors in traffic management began to surface.
The first problem was identified at the end of the expressway, the road from Patenga to the airport, named G-1, which met the Bangabandhu Tunnel, and the road from the same point on to the best to Outer Ring Road, named G-2.
At the end of the expressway till the airport, there is no right-lane, which has also been identified as a potential problem.
For the U-Loop, a U-turn has to be constructed under the expressway on Katgarh Road, another on G-1 i.e. the Airport Road and a U-loop has to be made towards G-2, the Outer Ring Road.
Construction for all these would be done by the CDA. A cost estimate for the changes has yet to be submitted.
Contacted, CMP Commissioner Saleh Mohammad Tanvir said, "In order to make the road infrastructure suitable for the full use of the Bangabandhu Tunnel, we have conducted a survey on traffic management at various points of the tunnel connection, including the elevated expressways.
"We informed the CDA of the issues we found and now they will try to solve those. We will provide full cooperation whenever needed," he said.
Mahfuzur Rahman, project director of the Elevated Expressway and executive engineer of CDA, said, "We are aware of the observations made by the CMP regarding traffic congestion on the expressway. Work is going on according to our design. Since the CMP controls the traffic management system, they have asked us for some design reforms and our technical team is working as per their advice to ensure proper coordination of the three roads."
According to the CDA, work has begun on a number of new blueprints for resolving the crisis, with the designs focusing on U-loops on the Outer Ring Road, Bangabandhu Tunnel and Airport Road between G-1 and G-2.
This, however, may not solve all the problems.
Delwar Majumder, an urban planner and convener of the Forum for Planned Chittagong, said, "There is no coordination among the government departments. After the observation of CMP, now the CDA is formulating a new design, but this will not solve the problem. To make the tunnel easier to navigate, it is important to build a U-loop for the elevated expressway."
No accountability, no regard?
Fingers are being pointed at everyone, but most believe the culprit-in-chief behind the expressway rife with problems is the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA), the implementing authority for the mega project.
While the CDA authorities are slinging mud in return, bad reputation is a hard thing to shrug off, and the CDA has already gained it through a series of mistakes over the years.
The CDA's other flyover traffic management was also found flawed. Earlier, the 5.2km Muradpur-Lalkhan Bazar Akhtaruzzaman Flyover had to add new loops to cope with the traffic.
In the same way, the CDA added an extra loop to the city's Bahaddarhat flyover, which allegedly began to develop cracks a short while later in November last year.
The county's maiden traffic tunnel also had to be redesigned due to inherent flaws in the design.
When the CDA undertook another project to solve the perennial water-logging problem at the port city, spending Tk5,616 crore, the authority failed to include all the canals and nor did it follow the updated drainage master plan. The CDA, once again, had to revise the project.
In this regard, urban planning engineer Delwar Muzumdar said, "The CDA is making one mistake after another due to lack of accountability. The CDA needs to be held accountable for all these mistakes.
But Kazi Hasab bin Shams, the CDA's chief engineer, blamed the errors on those who were building the tunnel.
"It is up to the tunnel authorities to build all the service roads and decide what those would look like since they started the construction of the tunnel later."
However, Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, the project director of the tunnel, said the allegation was baseless.
For now, the CDA is trying to resolve the potential crises in two phases. First, it plans to create junctions for the expressway and then add service ramps, lanes, new roads and parking space. It also plans to widen the road.
The 16-kilometre long expressway is being constructed from the city's Lalkhan Bazar to Shah Amanat Airport to establish direct port connectivity with the city's three industrial zones (Faujdarhat, Nasirabad and Kalurghat industrial zones) and South Chittagong.
The road leads directly to the airport from the city. The maximum length of the expressway is 18 metres with a total of 24 ramps.
The Chattogram Elevated Expressway project was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council on 11 July 2017. The duration of the project was three years. The CDA is jointly implementing the project with Chinese company, Max-Ranken Joint Venture.