Stylish Garments Limited Chairman Salauddin Chowdhury – one of the leading garment factory owners of the country – had scheduled a meeting with a US buyer at his factory in Gazipur on a fine morning recently.
However, the buyer changed his mind because of the traffic congestion on the Dhaka-Gazipur highway. As a result, Salauddin had to book a five-star hotel in the capital's Gulshan area for the meeting.
"Had he gone to my factory, we could have shown him the compliances," said Salauddin.
For over 4,500 factories in Gazipur industrial hub close to Dhaka city, work on a major road infrastructure has turned into a cause of woes. Apart from disrupting entire supply chains for industries, it is causing immense suffering to regular commuters.
The government took up the country's first bus rapid transit project (BRT-3) in 2012 to ease traffic congestion on the Dhaka-Gazipur highway. The project was supposed to end in 2016 but has hit a snag.
But traffic congestion on the highway now seems unending as the under-construction BRT-3 is running five years behind schedule.
Experts say the project was based on a poor feasibility study, requiring repeated changes in designs to correct the faults during implementation and causing a delay.
The initial estimated project cost of Tk2,039.84 crore more than doubled to Tk4,268 crore, though the progress stood at 61% in July.
Business feeling the pinch
Apart from the apparel industry, many business conglomerates like Beximco and Pran-RFL Group have also set up industrial parks in Gazipur. The government also is setting up Sreepur Economic Zone and Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City in the city to attract foreign investment.
Three mobile phone assembling plants of Oppo, Xiaomi and Techno in Gazipur.
The 20.5-kilometre bus rapid transit has been under construction for the last nine years, narrowing the Dhaka-Gazipur highway to a great extent.
The highway is dilapidated in many parts and remains jam-packed most of the time, discouraging foreign buyers and company executives from factory visits.
Many Chinese officials of the phone assembling plants who come to Gazipur from the Uttara area every day complain that they have to spend a significant amount of time daily while coming to work and going back home.
The rickety road is disrupting transportation of raw materials to and finished goods from factories, adding to production cost and time.
Sometimes, garment factory owners are also close to missing the shipment deadlines because of delays on the road. Many factories work the whole night to make up the time.
The traffic congestion on the highway also causes suffering to factory workers.
Businessmen have suggested that the implementing agencies of the bus rapid transit work at night too to speed up the construction work.
Naquib Khan, director for corporate affairs at Nestle Bangladesh, a multinational company, said running a business organisation in Gazipur is being thrown into disorder in different ways due to the intense traffic jam and the dusty environment.
He said even though their factory is in Gazipur, most of their employees come from Dhaka every day.
"I have to spend around four hours every day to reach the office. The journey to work is a serious mental stress. Besides, there is the loss of working hours," said Nakib Khan.
Gazipur City Corporation Mayor Mohammad Zahangir Alam said local people and businessmen have had to incur a loss of around Tk96,000 crore over the last eight years of prolonged development work.
"Tens of thousands of cargo vehicles, buses as well as non-motorised vehicles ply on the road every day, but the service lanes are insufficient," said Mayor Zahangir Alam.
Economists consider the extra costs of business caused by the construction work-induced traffic congestion.
"People have been forced to bear the huge amount of hidden cost, but no one cares about it," said Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank's Dhaka office.
The perennial pain
Every day, tens of thousands of people have to travel between Dhaka and Gazipur for work and business.
Sazzadur Rahman (35), a private firm employee who comes to Dhaka's Tejgaon from Gazipur Chowrasta every day, said, "It takes 3-4 hours to reach my office. I feel I am in a development trap."
Transport drivers and owners also are feeling the pinch.
Mohammad Alam, a driver working with Gazipur Paribahan that operates bus services from Dhaka to Gazipur, said he could make at least four trips a day in the past, but cannot make more than two trips daily nowadays. As a result, he has to earn less than before.
"Besides, the waste of time, we have to spend Tk500 more on fuel for each trip due to traffic congestion," said Mohammad Alam.
Transport owners said around 1,500 inter-district buses ply the Dhaka-Gazipur highway.
Almost the entire road is in poor condition, but the condition of the 3-kilometre area stretching from Tongi Bazar to Cherag Ali is the worst with numerous potholes.
Mohammad Nasir, owner of the Dhaka-Tangail bound Binimoy Paribahan, said, "Besides the fuel cost, the maintenance cost also has become almost double. As a result, our income has come down significantly."
Md Shawkat Ali Babul, joint secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said passengers are now avoiding buses due to huge jams on the road and showing interest in trains to come to Dhaka.
The Dhaka-Gazipur highway is nothing short of a nightmare for cargo vehicles, especially trucks and covered vans. To cope with additional fuel and maintenance costs, cargo vehicles owners have raised the fare.
Covered van owner Tofazzol Hossain Majumder said they used to charge Tk13,000-18,000 for freight to Chattogram, but the fare is Tk20,000-25,000 now.
"Huge time is being wasted nowadays," said Tofazzol.
Incomes of drivers and helpers, however, fell due to a drop in the number of trips.
"We could make a minimum of 20-25 trips to Chattogram every month, but now the number has come down to 12-15," said truck driver Mohammad Monir.
Law enforcers also have found it tough to keep the traffic in order.
Abdullah Al Mamun, deputy commissioner at Gazipur Metropolitan Police, said every day more than 10 vehicles become out of whack on the road, making their job harder.
ASM Elias, project director of Roads and Highways part of the BRT-3 project, said the roads in his part (Tongi-Gazipur) are in good condition although the road has shrunk a little.
"I think the problem will be resolved soon as we are now working to make the road wider," said ASM Elias, adding, "The traffic congestion problem is happening on the Bangladesh Bridge Authority's part."
Admitting that traffic congestion has become heavier because of their work, Mohirul Islam Khan, project director for the BBA portion of the project, said the road has not been maintained for a long time.
Because the road is now under the BRT-3 project, the Department of the Roads and Highways is not paying attention to the decapitated condition of the road, he said, adding, on the other hand, the BRT-3 contractors do not do maintenance work because it is not mentioned in the contract.
Transport expert Professor Shamsul Hoque said Bangladesh is finding it difficult to complete a single project on time for a lack of efficient manpower and professionals, while Indonesia runs 12 such BRTs successfully.
He also observed that the government has taken the wrong decision of turning a national corridor like the Dhaka-Gazipur highway into a bus rapid transit to ease the traffic congestion.
"BRT is not supposed to be there. It is constructed in the heart of a city. Even the Revised Strategic Transport Plan does not recommend taking up a project like BRT-3 there," he continued.