When heading north on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway from the capital, long tailbacks are a common sight in the Khilkhet area. After spending several hours to cross the next 2.5km amid immense gridlock, the dug up left part of the road will come into view.
This work is part of the Elevated Expressway project, which began near the end of 2012 and was scheduled to be completed in 2016.
The construction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line 3 is taking place just 100 metres ahead of the same spot. The project's implementation has shut down all traffic in two lanes on the road, allowing vehicles to move very slowly on the remaining two.
When traffic gets heavy, gridlock on the road stretches up to nine kilometres until it hits Banani.
In a visit to Uttara on Sunday, The Business Standard found that girders used by the BRT project have been left in the middle of the road near Jasimuddin Avenue area. A temporary depot for material and equipment is also disrupting traffic as vehicles cross the Abdullahpur Bridge.
The key purpose behind BRT project's inception was to allow vehicles to cross the 20.5km stretch of road from Gazipur to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport area in 20 minutes. But, the project is yet to be completed, and the delay is causing misery instead of easing it.
Due to the heavy traffic in Eid season, vehicles now take at least 5-6 hours to cross this portion of the road.
Moreover, the government is implementing SASEC Road Connectivity Project-1 to upgrade the 70km two-lane highway from Joydevpur to Elenga into a four-lane one, at a cost of more than Tk6,000 crore.
Under this project, construction is underway in different parts of the road, barring traffic on one side or another in multiple areas. This is causing immense suffering to northbound passengers heading through Joydevpur, Chandra, Tangail and the Jamuna Bridge from Dhaka.
A number of under construction bridges and flyovers are also compounding the existing traffic congestion.
Not even 50% completed in nearly a decade
The government took up the three projects – Elevated Expressway, BRT-3 and SASEC – between 2011 and 2012 to ease the hassle of passengers heading north from Dhaka. These projects were supposed to be completed in three years, but completion has not even reached 50% in nearly a decade.
If those were completed within their deadlines, the cost would have been Tk19,944 crore. But after multiple increases in projects' duration and costs, the total budget have reached Tk32,011 crore, which marks an overall increase of 61%.
The government is currently implementing six mega-projects with a cost of Tk57,853 crore, including the above mentioned three. Their goal is to improve the transportation of passengers and goods from Dhaka to northern districts.
Slow implementation of these projects has made the lives of passengers more difficult.
Joydevpur-Elenga road project duration keeps rising
In 2013, the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the upgradation of the 70-kilometre road from Joydevpur to Elenga in Tangail to a four-lane highway at a cost of Tk 2,788 crore.
After increasing the project's duration in four phases, the costs have now reached Tk5,593.16 crore.
The Road Transport and Highways Division had recently sent a proposal to the planning ministry seeking to increase the project's duration till 2024, and hike costs by an additional Tk621.25 crore.
If approved, the road project will have a cost of Tk6,214 crore, which is an 122.86% increase compared to the initial allocation. The government is spending an additional Tk3,426 crore because the project was not completed within the initial deadline.
Responding to a query, the project's director Md Ishaque told The Business Standard, "Under the upgradation project, three out of nine flyovers are currently under construction in Safipur, Naojor and Hatubhanga. The construction of a few more bridges is nearing completion too.
"It is common for passengers to suffer during construction of road infrastructure."
Commenting on the delays, he said, "Though the project was approved in 2013, the contractor started working in 2016. Later, a separate service lane, and a number of flyovers and bridges were added to the project's scope. Such factors have caused delays."
BRT project stagnates for eight years
The BRT project – which would facilitate faster and smoother passenger transportation between Gazipur and airport areas – has witnessed only 28% completion in the last eight years.
A multitude of issues such as faulty design, inefficiency of implementing organisations, and lack of interest from the contractor have caused the project's cost to shoot up from Tk2,040 crore to Tk4,268 crore, an increase of 109%.
The project – had it been completed in time – would have allowed transportation of around 20,000 passengers per hour on separate lanes. It would have taken each passenger only 20 minutes to reach the airport area from Gazipur.
However, commuters are now spending five-six hours to cross the same stretch of road, as project authorities have left material and equipment scattered on the road without any consideration.
In a recent evaluation, the planning ministry's Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) said the contractor firm is not supplying adequate manpower and funds, which is disrupting the project's implementation.
Under this project, the project authorities had made a deal with China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd (CGGC) for the construction of a 16km road, six flyovers, 19 BRT stations, and drains within 917 days, but the deadline was increased to 1,164 days, the IMED said.
Later, the authorities increased the deadline by an additional 480 days, but so far, the component has progressed only 42.52%, it added.
Authorities had also made a deal with China's Jiangsu Provincial Transportation and Group Co Ltd (JTEG) for building a 4km elevated road with a cost of Tk935.12 crore. The JTEG could not finish work within the deadline, so authorities decided to increase it.
The IMED has recommended punitive actions against these two firms for failing to meet their deadlines, adding that the project – when completed – will improve the quality of life for at least 10 lakh people.
In its report, the division pointed out that the project work is going on for years, causing the immediate surrounding area to face an increasing level of dust pollution. People are also crossing the road at a greater risk, and accidents have increased in the area.
Liaquat Ali, project director for the bridge portion of this project, declined to comment on the issue after being approached by The Business Standard.
On condition of anonymity, a Road Transport and Highways Department official said, "After five years of groundwork, filed level work began in 2018. We are moving forward with the project while battling with problems such as heavy traffic, waterlogging, garbage piled beside the road, parked transportations, and underground gas lines.
"The firm appointed by Asian Development Bank (ADB) conducted their survey without considering what is under the ground. So we could not realise the problems we will be encountering at the implementation phase."
First part of Elevated Expressway not launching this year
The government took up the Elevated Expressway project stretching from Airport to Kutubkhali in 2011, but work on the Moghbazar-Kutubkhali part under the third phase has not even begun in nearly ten years.
Commenting on the matter, Project Director AHMS Akter said, "Though we planned to open the first part of the expressway from Airport to Tejgaon to the public in December this year, it will not be possible due to the Covid-19 situation.
"Work on the first part is moving forward at a good pace. I am optimistic about opening this part to the public in June next year."
The government approved the project under PPP (public private partnership) with a cost of Tk8,940 crore to facilitate better transportation between the capital's northern and southern areas. It is providing Tk3,000 core of the cost as viability gap.
The government also took up a separate project with a cost of Tk3,217 crore for other supporting activities such as land acquisition and service line transfer.
Both of the projects were supposed to conclude in 2016. However, the cost of the supporting project has risen by 51% to Tk4,869 crore. Delays in this support to the elevated expressway project have cost the government Tk1,652 crore more.
So far, of the 46.73km Elevated Expressway, only 62.58% of the 7.45km road from airport to Banani Railway Station has been completed. Only 14.91% work has been completed from Banani to the Moghbazar area.
And in the third phase, no project work has been done from Moghbazar to Chattogram Road's Kutubkhali area.
Rangpur also suffering the consequences
Eid holidaymakers heading toward Rangpur are facing immense suffering due to the delays in the 90-kilometre Elenga-Hatikumrul-Rangpur four-lane highway project.
In a spot visit, The Business Standard found that authorities have blocked off the entire road in many areas to move forward with the project's construction. In a risky move, vehicles are plying on an alternate road to get to their destinations.
As the highway is being upgraded, lack of maintenance has deteriorated the existing road significantly. Carpeting is gone in some areas, while other parts are filled with potholes. Along with vehicles, pedestrians are also facing accidents on this road.
Jafar Uddin, a resident of Modern area in Rangpur, said, "Work on the four-lane highway project has been going on for several years. It is getting hard for us to leave our homes and commute.
"There is no end to our suffering. We do not even know how much time it would take for this project to finish."
According to sources, the government took up the project in 2016 with a cost of Tk11,899 crore and a deadline of August 2021. ECNEC approved an amendment to the project last year, increasing its duration till 2024 and hiking the cost by 40% to Tk16,659 crore.
The government is spending an additional Tk4,760 crore on the project due to the delay. So far, authorities only managed to spend Tk2,101 crore in the project, while till November last year, financial progress was 12.61%.
On the issue, the project's Director AK Mohammad Fazlul Karim said, "Tough we have finished constructing the road under the project, it is the responsibility of a particular zone under the Roads and Highways Department.
"If a lack of road maintenance causes public suffering, the project authority will not be able to take responsibility."
Addressing the delay in project completion, he said, "Tough the project was approved in 2016, the work began in 2019 as it took time to appoint a project director, install a project implementation unit and process the tenders.
"The project is currently moving at a steady pace."