The Karnaphuli tunnel will not yield optimum benefits even if it is inaugurated on time because the current design of traffic management system is not on par with the traffic pressure at either end of the tunnel, say Chattogram police.
In the current design, five roads – Outer Ring Road, Kathgarh Road, Elevated Expressway, Airport Road, and Patenga Beach Road – come together at the entrance of the Patenga end of the tunnel. The Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP) fears this will create a traffic bottleneck there.
The CMP also says the tunnel will not be able to handle the huge pressure of traffic from different roads at the Anwara end either.
Vehicles from different projects including the Korean EPZ, the Chinese Economic and Industrial Zone, Karnaphuli Fertiliser Company, Matarbari Deep Seaport in Cox's Bazar, Banshkhali and Matarbari power projects would pass through this end. Roads from different areas of South Chattogram including Parki Beach also meet here.
The Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the River Karnaphuli will also see increased traffic of tourists as the government is considering the construction of a new tourist area and a marine drive road in Teknaf.
The CMP has detected the design flaw recently when 75% work on the project – slated for completion by December 2022 – has already been done and dusted.
The Bridges Division has formed a committee to redesign the traffic management system at both ends of the tunnel and it is expected to be completed by 2023.
Until then, vehicles will have to continue to move through the tunnel under the current flawed traffic management system and traffic police will have to manage vehicles manually, which will not be effective, the CMP says.
If traffic pressure increases, vehicles will have to wait inside the tunnel, the police say.
Moreover, thousands of tourists and vehicles flocking to Patenga beach on holidays will add extra pressure to the existing traffic at the Patenga end of the tunnel. Experts have expressed concerns that this would cause traffic congestion as well as accidents in that area.
To tackle the huge traffic pressure, the CMP has recommended a different traffic management system like those at Faridpur's Bhanga Expressway and Kuril flyover in Dhaka.
Move to redesign traffic management system
On 22 September this year, CMP Commissioner Saleh Mohammad Tanvir informed Bridge Secretary Abu Bakar Siddique about the errors in the traffic management of the tunnel.
Later, the bridges secretary formed an 11-member committee headed by the CMP commissioner to correct the errors.
The committee met on 28 September and formed two technical sub-committees. They also decided that the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) will design the Patenga end of the tunnel and the Bridges Division will redesign the Anwara end.
"Both the technical sub-committees have prepared their reports, which will be submitted at a meeting this Wednesday [3 November]. There would be recommendations to ensure a modern traffic management system at both ends of the tunnel," Saleh Mohammad Tanvir told The Business Standard.
Engineer Harunur Rashid, director of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel project, said, "The design will be formulated based on the recommendations of the two technical committees. Before that, the work of the tunnel should be completed."
Engineer Subhash Barua, transportation secretary at the Planned Chattogram Forum, said, "It is unfortunate that errors are identified in the middle of the construction work. If the problem is not solved quickly, the benefits of the tunnel cannot be achieved."
The China EPZ is constructing a crossroads 2km away from the toll plaza at the Anwara end of the tunnel. There is no service road for a large number of vehicles near the toll plaza. As a result, vehicles from Parki beach and Kafco Fertiliser Factory will run from the intersection of the China Economic and Industrial Zone crossroads. However, there is no plan to reduce traffic congestion at that intersection.
The Bangladesh Bridges Authority, China Communication Construction Company Limited and Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd jointly conducted a technical and economic study for the construction of the tunnel.
Later, during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to China in June 2014, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries on G2G (government-to-government) basis. An agreement was signed between the Bangladesh Bridge Authority and the China Construction Company on 30 June that year.
In November 2015, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the Construction of Multi-Lane Road Tunnel under the River Karnaphuli project. The project was scheduled to end in June 2020 and the estimated cost was Tk8,446.63 crore.
However, although it was approved in 2015, the construction of the project started in December 2017. By this time, the authorities also revised the expenditure to Tk10,374 crore, increasing it by Tk1,927 crore.
Of the total cost, the Bangladesh government is providing Tk4,461.23 crore and the Exim Bank of China is providing the remaining Tk5,913.19 crore as a loan with a 2% interest rate.
The length of the main tunnel is 3.32km. Each of the 2.45km tubes has a 10.80-metre diameter and will have two lanes. There will be 5.35km of connecting roads at the two ends of the tunnel. There will also be a 727-metre-long overbridge.