The government has decided for the first time to draw up a 20-year masterplan for the development of road infrastructure in the country.
The masterplan will incorporate details about which parts of the country need how much and what types of roads and highways in the next 5, 10 and 20 years. The government will implement them in light of the plan.
The decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued instructions to build a sustainable road infrastructure and protect agricultural lands.
Experts hail the government's decision, saying such a masterplan has been long overdue since Asian neighbours like India, Pakistan and China have built quality and sustainable road infrastructures under respective masterplans.
The premier Tuesday expressed her displeasure at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council over the loss of croplands through new road construction projects.
Stressing the importance of repairing and maintaining the existing roads instead of making new ones, she directed the authorities concerned to take long-term plans for road development.
Following that order, the Cabinet Committee decided to formulate the masterplan titled "Roads Development Masterplan". The Ministry of Roads and Bridges will formulate it with the help of experts.
Cabinet Committee Convener AHM Mustafa Kamal, also the finance minister, briefed about it after the meeting.
Nasima Begum, additional secretary at the Cabinet Division, told The Business Standard that the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase has directed authorities concerned to form a committee to work out a masterplan.
Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, during his tenure as the country's finance minister, also opposed the construction of new roads in several meetings.
He said the number of roads in the country was already much higher and that they had been built for no reason. So, there was no need to build new roads but to maintain the existing ones properly.
To protect agricultural lands, emphasis was put at various government meetings at different times on building flyovers over old roads rather than new bypasses on highways, but to no effect.
Within the last four years (2015 - February 2019), the length of national highways in the country increased by around 400 kilometres (kms) from 3,538kms and regional highways by around 200kms from 4,278kms. During the same period, length of district roads dropped by over 400kms, though.
Apart from these, there are also roads under city corporations and the local government ministry.
Questions are always there about the quality of roads in Bangladesh. For the first time since independence, Bangladesh has very recently entered a new era in road communication by constructing the Dhaka-Mawa expressway.
But already, there are 21 expressways in neighbouring India, 11 in Pakistan and 38 in Malaysia. After building two expressways, Sri Lanka is now constructing two more. Meanwhile, India is building the Golden Triangle with huge investments.
Shamsul Haque, a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said, "We needed a masterplan much earlier. Even if it is late, it will be possible to implement it if the government takes a strong political stance."
He also said it is not possible to go to the next stage of development with the quality of roads and highways being made in Bangladesh.
"Like our neighbouring countries, we have to build 'arterial roads'. Then, one road will bear the workload of 10 roads."
The kind of highway that is being built in the country based on conventional concepts is wasting money but the quality is not being ensured. Accidents are not decreasing. The country does not need such roads any more, he remarked.
Like the one on the Dhaka-Mawa highway, if expressways can be built on Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-North Bengal, Dhaka-South Bengal and Dhaka-Sylhet highways, a revolutionary change will take place in the country's road system, Samsul Haque explained.
"We need to formulate a masterplan based on the core philosophy of development. Roads should be straight like an artery with no intersection.
"There should be two-layer roads with no speed limit on expressways. Then, it will be commercially profitable. Crops can be protected as well as prolonged floods can be prevented as well," he opined.