The estimated cost of per kilometre construction of the Sylhet-Tamabil four-lane highway project is around Tk64 crore, with experts terming the amount very high.
The estimated cost of the project is Tk3,586 crore, and the highway is 56 kilometres long. The government is upgrading the highway to four lanes, with a separate lane for slow moving vehicles.
Dr Md Shamsul Hoque, transportation expert and civil engineering professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told The Business Standard that road construction is way more expensive in Bangladesh than in other countries.
"One of the reasons is our land acquisition cost, which gobbles up 40-45 percent of the total project expense. Another reason is that foreign consultants and experts who are brought here are paid highly," he said.
Shamsul said compared to that in Bangladesh, road construction cost is lower in countries like India and Sri Lanka which employs local experts for such projects.
"We do not employ our own experts even though our road projects do not depend on technology that much," he explained.
Foreign experts do not work efficiently, said the professor.
"It happens that a road is supposed to be durable for 15 years, but within a year or two it needs to be repaired. If maintenance cost is taken into account, the total project cost rises manifold."
Like experts, development aid organisations have long been criticising Bangladesh's road construction expenses as well.
The World Bank in a report on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18 said the cost of building each kilometre of road in Bangladesh is higher than that in China and India.
According to the global lender, among four-lane roads, the cost of each kilometre was $66 lakh (Tk55.91 crore) for Rangpur-Hatikumrul highway, $70 lakh (Tk59.3 crore) for Dhaka-Sylhet highway, $1.19 crore (Tk100.8 crore) for Dhaka-Mawa highway, $25 lakh (Tk21.18 crore) for Dhaka-Chattogram highway, and $25 lakh (Tk21.18 crore) for Dhaka-Mymensingh highway.
On the other hand, per kilometre construction cost of a four-lane road was $11-13 lakh (Tk9.31-11.01 crore) in India and $13-16 lakh (Tk11.01-13.55 crore) in China.
This means it was 10 times more expensive to build per kilometre of some four-lane roads in Bangladesh than in those countries, the World Bank said.
AKM Manir Hossain Pathan, additional engineer of the Roads and Highways Department, told The Business Standard that roads vary in terms of design and that is why per kilometre construction cost can fluctuate.
Shamima Nargis, member of the Physical Infrastructure Division of the Planning Commission, said the Sylhet-Tamabil highway project was being sent to the Ecnec after scrutiny.
She said the project involves construction of several bridges.
"A decision on the project will be made at the Ecnec meeting if the cost seems high. In that case, the project can get approval without any condition, or its cost may decrease."
Project to spur trade with India's seven sister states
Planning Commission sources said the project would be tabled at the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnen) meeting on Tuesday.
To finance the project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will give a loan of Tk2,970.55 crore while Tk615.48 crore will come from state coffers.
Officials said the project will further facilitate trade with India's seven sister states, including Assam.
Also, it will be possible to establish sub-regional road communication, and cross-border connectivity between China, Myanmar, and Bhutan.
According to the project proposal, the highway is part of Asian highway-1, Asian highway-2, Bimstec corridor-3 and Saarc corridor-5.
It is the main corridor for connectivity between the greater Sylhet region and the rest of the country, and for expansion of sub-regional trade.
Roads and Highways Department officials said the 226km Dhaka-Sylhet highway would be upgraded to four lanes with Asian Development Bank funds, and land acquisition for the project was underway.
With that, if the Sylhet-Tamabil highway is upgraded to four lanes, there will be no more barrier to establishing cross-border connectivity between India and the northeastern part of Bangladesh, they added.
In 2015, the Asian Development Bank funded the feasibility study on the Dhaka-Sylhet-Tamabil highway. Later, in 2019, the feasibility study on the Sylhet-Tamabil highway was carried out with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank funds.
Both studies said the Sylhet-Tamabil highway project may not be financially lucrative if the government does not collect toll, but there will be economic benefits.
The project proposal said toll should be collected on the highway.