The construction of a multi-lane tunnel under the River Karnaphuli in Chattogram is going on at full throttle, while foreign workers' absence amid the Covid-19 pandemic has stagnated most of the mega projects of the country.
Around 250 Chinese and 600 domestic workers have been working on this project that is one of the government's top priorities.
If the work continues at the current pace, vehicles will start moving through this tunnel – 43 metres below the bottom of the river – next year, according to the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning.
IMED Secretary Pradeep Ranjan Chakraborty recently visited the project site and expressed his satisfaction, which has been reflected in the on-the-spot inspection report of the IMED.
According to Planning Commission sources, the project was approved in 2015 involving an estimated cost of Tk8,447 crore and it was supposed to be complete by 2020. However, the duration of the project was extended till December 2022 in 2018 as the work was not speeded up due to various complications.
The total cost of the project in the revised project has been estimated at Tk10,374 crore. The Exim Bank of China is giving a hard loan of Tk5,913 crore. China Communication Construction Company Ltd is working as the contractor for the project.
The IMED said the implementation of the project has gained momentum immediately after the amendment. According to the inspection report, 61% of the project allocation has been spent so far and 54.36% of the field work has been completed.
According to the report, work on one of the two tubes of the 3.315-kilometre tunnel has been completed while work on the other tube began late last year.
The report said the tubes are being constructed using 19,616 small segments which have been constructed in China. So far, 19,206 segments have been constructed in China and 15,784 segments have been sent to Chattogram. Of these, 9,784 have been set up.
In addition to the four-lane tunnel, a 550-metre four-lane connecting road is being constructed at the Patenga end and 4.8 km at the Anwara end. Besides, a toll plaza and a service area are also being constructed.
According to the inspection report, 362 acres out of 382 acres of land have been acquired under the project. The authorities have urged the implementing agency to complete the acquirement of the remaining 20 acres of land soon.
IMED Secretary Pradeep Ranjan told The Business Standard, "Karnaphuli tunnel is the only project among the ongoing mega projects of the country which has not been affected by the pandemic. Domestic and foreign workers are still working on this project day and night.
"If this continues, the construction of the tunnel will be completed within the stipulated time."
The Bridges Division had finalised the Development Project Proposal (DPP) for the construction of the country's first tunnel in December 2014. At that time, the cost of construction of the tunnel was estimated at Tk5,600.40 crore. The Planning Commission returned the proposal at that time as there was no guarantee of funding.
Later, in June 2015, the cost of the project was estimated at Tk7,084.06 crore based on the proposal of Chinese contractor company China Communication Construction Company Ltd. However, the project was approved by the ECNEC in November that year at a cost of Tk8,447 crore.
According to the Bridges Division, the three bridges over the Karnaphuli River that divides Chattogram city cannot cope with the huge pressure of traffic. It is not possible to build another bridge on this river due to excess siltation. That is why initiatives have been taken to build a tunnel instead of bridges.
The width of the river in the tunnel area is 700 metres and the depth is 9-11 metres. The tunnel is being constructed at a depth of 18 to 43 metres below the water.
The bridge department said it would connect the Asian Highway, connect the downtown with the city on the east bank of the river. It would also increase the port facilities of Chattogram, build a new link road between Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar.
The project was planned to develop the city of Chattogram in the "One City Two Towns" model like the city of Shanghai, China.
Officials of the Bridges Division said the construction of this tunnel will result in the development of the proposed industrial area on the east bank of the river. It will also make an improved and easy communication system among Chattogram city, port and the airport on the west bank of the river.
"The tunnel will reduce travel time and cost. Transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods from the eastern part of the country to Chattogram port, airport and the northern part of the country will be easier. Establishment of an easy communication system with the eastern bank of the Karnaphuli will develop the tourism industry in that area."
They also think that the tunnel will have a huge impact on the economic development of the country including the elimination of unemployment through the overall facilitation of communication system, modernisation, and development of industries including tourism.
The tunnel will reduce the distance from Chattogram to Cox's Bazar by 40 kilometres. Vehicles in this tunnel will run at a speed of 80 kilometers per hour, said the Bridges Division.