The government is planning to build an expressway from Chattogram to Cox's Bazar through Patiya, Banshkhali and Eidmoni under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mechanism.
The planned route, which is 106km long, will reduce travel distance from the port city to Cox's Bazar by 54km. Meanwhile, the existing 160km Chattogram-Cox's Bazar national highway, where an expressway was initially planned, will be upgraded to a four-lane road instead.
Decisions on both the projects came at an inter-ministerial meeting, presided over by the Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary Md Nazrul Islam, on 10 November.
The government of Japan has already expressed interest in funding the expressway project, said officials. Meanwhile, regarding the four-lane upgradation project, the government will approach Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) for a loan on easy terms.
The expressway route, from Patiya - Anwara - Banshkhali - Eidmoni - Chowfaldandi - Khurushkul - Cox's Bazar, will not only slash travel distance and time, but also cut down construction cost and eventually travel cost with a reduced toll payment.
Officials expect the route will gain popularity because of a shorter distance and lessen pressure on the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar highway.
The Road Transport and Highways Division has set a target of completing both the projects by 2030.
Earlier, a committee headed by Md Abdul Malek, Additional Secretary (Development) of Road Transport and Highways Division, was formed to determine the route for the expressway. Following inspection, the committee proposed the route through Banshkhali.
Md Abdul Malek told TBS that at present there is a 70 km regional road from Chattogram's Patiya-Anwara-Banshkhali-Toitong to Chakaria's Eidmoni, while there is no road from Eidmoni-Chowfaldandi-Khurushkul to Cox's Bazar, which is 36km.
However, the Roads and Highways Department has completed the survey work for the construction of a regional highway from Eidmoni to Cox's Bazar and prepared a Tk2000 crore project proposal for the construction of this road.
In addition to a shortened distance, if the expressway is built on this route, the cost of land acquisition and construction will also be reduced, as the committee has estimated. It has proposed that an expressway under the PPP be built along the regional highway.
Road Transport and Highways Department officials said the Cox's Bazar area is being considered as an important economic zone in the country, centering on the Matarbari Coal Power Plant, LNG Terminal, proposed Matarbari Deep Sea Port and Matarbari-centric energy hub. As a result, it has become urgent to facilitate quicker communication with the port city.
Mohammad Yunus, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), thinks it will be reasonable to build an expressway along the existing Chattogram-Cox's Bazar highway.
"The government has plans to build a marine drive along the coast from Chattogram's Mirsarai to Cox's Bazar, which will connect with the Cox's Bazar-Tennaf marine drive road. If a commercial expressway is built through Banshkhali, then the proposed Mirsarai-Cox's Bazar marine drive construction plan will be difficult to implement and the tourism industry will suffer," he said.
Govt to conduct survey for planned PPP project
The initial plan to build an expressway on the existing Chattogram-Cox's Bazar route was followed by a survey, which was initiated in 2018 and is now in its final stage. However, with the government deciding to build the expressway on the new route through Banshkali, the decision to conduct a new survey was taken at the 10 November meeting.
PPP authority officials said that Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has expressed interest in the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar Highway project under the government-to-government (G2G) PPP modality.
The PPP authorities will now discuss with MLIT the details of the expressway construction through the Banshkhali route, they added.
Officials of the Road Transport and Highways Department and the Economic Relations Division (ERD) said the design for the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar-Teknaf four-lane highway has been prepared with the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Meanwhile, Jica has expressed its interest in financing the project of upgrading the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar highway to a four-lane road.
ERD officials said the proposal for the four-lane upgradation will be presented to Jica, but if it is not interested the government will move to finalise a loan agreement with the ADB.