Around 60% of the work of the elevated expressway from Lalkhan Bazar to Patenga in Chattogram has been completed and the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) expects to open it to traffic in June 2023.
Although the ongoing Covid pandemic has slowed down the pace of work a bit, at present the construction of the 16.5km expressway is going on in full swing.
Currently, due to regular traffic congestion, it takes two to two and a half hours to go from Lalkhan Bazar to the Shah Amanat International Airport and Patenga beach. Passengers often miss their flights as they cannot reach the airport on time. For this reason, foreign investors are reluctant to invest in Chattogram.
Officials at the CDA, which is implementing the project, think once the project is completed, these problems will no longer be there. It will take 15 to 20 minutes to reach the airport.
If this expressway is connected to the Karnaphuli Tunnel, its economic importance will increase manifold through the creation of new investment potentials, they said. The tourism sector of the region will also be developed.
CDA Executive Engineer Mahfuzur Rahman, director of the Elevated Expressway Project, told The Business Standard, "Already 60% work has been completed. The construction of 250 of the 379 pillars of the expressway has been completed. Hopefully, implementation of the project will end by June 2023."
He, however, said some changes to the plan and purchase of land from the Chittagong Seaport Authority would increase the project cost further. The amount of extra money needed has not been finalised yet.
According to CDA sources, the Tk3,250.83 crore project was approved at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council on 11 July 2017. The target was to complete the construction of the 54-foot wide expressway within three years. On 24 February 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction work of the project. The CDA project is being jointly implemented by the contractor Max-Rankin.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told TBS, "Once the project is implemented, it will take an individual about 15 minutes to reach the commercially important area of the port city from the airport. At present, foreign buyers are not interested in coming to Chattogram due to severe traffic jams on this road. This is a major barrier to attracting investment in the region as well as to business activities."
"Hopefully, the elevated expressway will remove such obstacles. The long-standing problem of traffic congestion in Chattogram city will be solved and new areas of investment will be created, brightening the image of the port city as well as the country," he added.
Along with the elevated expressway, there are a number of important areas and organizations, including the port city's commercial centre Agrabad, Chattogram Port, Chattogram Custom House, Chattogram EPZ, Karnaphuli EPZ and six private off-docks.
About 50,000 vehicles ply on this road every day. Every morning, thousands of factory workers in the area suffer indescribably in getting to their offices on time and returning home.
Officials involved in the project think that the sufferings of office-goers will be alleviated once the elevated expressway is completed.
SM Abu Sufian, treasurer of the Chattogram zone of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Investors' Association, told TBS, "About four lakh workers work in Chattogram and Karnafuli EPZs. An average of one hour of labor is wasted every day due to traffic jams only. Besides the sufferings of the workers, the production of the factory is also disrupted. Transportation of imported and exported goods also faces problems. Our expectation is that once the construction of the elevated expressway is completed, there will be great progress in the development of the economy."
However, the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) has been demanding the removal of a half-kilometer segment of the expressway, from Lalkhan Bazar to Tiger Pass intersection since the construction of the expressway started. On 21 June, the CCC sent a letter to the CDA, asking it not to build the expressway through the Tiger Pass area. Environmental organisations are carrying out various protest programmes demanding that the mountains and natural beauty of the area not be ruined through the implementation of the project.
However, the CDA says that as there has been no change in the design after the Ecnec approval of the project, there is no scope to remove the Tiger Pass section of the expressway.
If the expressway is not brought to Lalkhanbazar and finished at Tiger Pass area, there will be long traffic congestions in the area from Lalkhan Bazar to Tiger Pass, undermining the benefits of this project.
CDA project officials have claimed that hills and trees will not be cut down due to the construction of the Tiger Pass section to Lalkhan Bazar portion of the expressway.