The government is going to develop the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive by increasing the width of a 32km stretch from 3.7m to 7.3m, an effort to boost the local economy by attracting tourists and agro investments.
Besides, new bridges will be constructed on the road and its various defects will be repaired.
Running through the world's longest beach on one side and green hills on the other, the Marine Drive is playing a vital role in the local economy, including the tourism and agriculture sectors.
However, various defects in the 80km road have been causing traffic congestions and accidents since its inauguration.
It is also at risk of severe damage due to natural calamities, including sea erosion.
The Road Transport and Highways Division has already sent a proposal to the Planning Commission for a Tk1,021.61 crore project titled "Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive Road Widening" to develop a 32km stretch of the road in the first phase.
But the Project Evaluation Committee (PEC) of the commission at a recent meeting recommended revising the proposal.
The PEC meeting chaired by Mamun Al Rashid, a member of the Physical Infrastructure Division of the Planning Commission, reviewed the allocations for various sectors, including foreign tour, road survey, consultant recruitment, land filling, geotextile, etc.
The proposed cost of the project to increase the width of the 32km stretch is around 132% of the construction cost of the whole road.
The Planning Commission raised questions about the proposed allocations for various sectors, including foreign tour, survey, consultancy, land acquisition, land filling, etc.
The project proposal has asked for an allocation of Tk523 crore for acquiring 123 acres of land.
It has also asked for Tk28.75 crore for land filling, Tk9.65 crore for different road-related services, Tk28.35 crore for geotextile, Tk58 crore for retaining walls, and Tk64.80 crore for tetrapods.
But the PEC meeting proposed reducing some of the allocations, including cancelling foreign tours that would cost Tk1.1 crore, considering the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mamun said the Marine Drive has great potential for the development of tourism and agro-based economy in Cox's Bazar.
"If this potential is to be realised, the road must be protected from future damage. Apart from that, the road has some serious defects. As a result, it is necessary to increase its width and repair all the defects."
The project proposal will be presented to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) for final approval after revision.
After the Ecnec approval, the Bangladesh Army will implement it along with the Roads and Highways Department (RHD).
Road built in 25 years
According to the planning ministry, the Engineering Construction Brigade (ECB) of the Bangladesh Army started constructing the Marine Drive in 1993.
The work was handed over to the RHD in July next year.
The project was later approved by the Ecnec in 2000 to be implemented jointly by the ECB and the RHD.
However, in the fiscal year 2004-05, the authorities decided to implement the project in three phases.
In the first phase, Tk93.7 crore was spent on building a 24km road from Kalatali to Inani. The work on this section was completed in June 2008.
In June 2016, the work on the 24km road from Inani to Shilkhali was completed at a cost of Tk474.68 crore.
The remaining 32km stretch from Shilkhali to Teknaf was completed in June 2018 at a cost of Tk203.06 crore.
The road's construction in three phases was completed at a cost of Tk771.51 crore.
Benefits and defects
According to a report of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) published in 2018-19, traffic volume on the road had increased by 104% per annum.
It said 3,173 vehicles were running on the road every day in 2017, but the number increased to 9,770 in 2019.
Public and private investments in tourism-related sectors in the project area increased after the road was completed.
This created employment opportunities as well as increased earnings of the people in the region, the IMED said.
The agency found that the number of people earning Tk10,000 or more per month in the project area had increased by 21% compared to the surrounding areas.
The unemployment rate had also come down from 17% to 13%.
According to the report, the road has reduced travel time from Cox's Bazar to Teknaf by one and a half hours.
As a result, the number of tourists in Cox's Bazar has increased.
Shrimp production has also increased due to the opportunity to transport shrimp fries from hatcheries within a short space of time.
Besides, agricultural productivity has increased as farmlands have been protected from flooding and salinity.
The IMED report also found some defects in the project's implementation.
It said the road from Kalatali beach to Bailey Hatchery is isolated from the Marine Drive.
As a result, large vehicles cannot go to the Marine Drive from Cox's Bazar.
The IMED found that traffic is disrupted in the one-lane Rezu Canal area on the road, and accidents often occur in the two risky turns before and after the canal.
It also said frequent accidents happen in the culvert built on the S-curve in the 32nd kilometre stretch of the road.
The report found structural errors in four of the seven inspected culverts built on the road.
The IMED said within just two years of construction, the road's shoulders and slopes had been damaged by rainwater and those in the 28th kilometre stretch are at risk of collapse due to their proximity to the sea.
In this regard, the representatives of the army at the PEC meeting said about a 9km stretch of the road had been damaged by sea waves.
The supervising engineer of the RHD's Chattogram zone said he had personally inspected the road.
"Initiatives need to be taken now to protect the road from damage. Otherwise, much of it is likely to be lost to the sea soon."