Café Zamzam had been doing well. Sales would hover around Tk30,000 per day on average until work on the elevated expressway began in 2019. The eatery business beside the main road in Chattogram EPZ area was on a gradual fall as it started paying a price for the development.
Construction chaos and gridlocks coupled with dust in the dry season and mud during the monsoon drove away diners, said Manzur Alam, the restaurant owner.
However, Alam had been trying to stay afloat even as his losses mounted. After incurring around Tk12 lakh in losses, he gave up in May this year, and turned into a small vendor selling cigarettes and betel leaves.
Like his restaurant, businesses on at least 11 points by the construction site of the Chattogram Elevated Expressway connecting Lalkhan Bazar to Patenga have been struggling with losses. Their sales have dropped by 50%-60%.
Traders said their customers shy away due to frequent gridlocks, prompted by the overhead expressway work on the 16.5 kilometre major transportation artery in the port city.
"A major portion of the road is blocked due to the ongoing construction work. I am worried whether I will be able to survive the business slump," said Rafiqul Islam, owner of the motor parts shop Ohi Wheel Collection in Chattogram's Chaumuhani area.
Mohammad Milon, manager of Hazrat Sadek Shah Furniture Mart in the EPZ area, said he has not been able to sell a single product since 18 September.
"The monthly sales were Tk1 lakh. Along with the pandemic, the disorderly construction has immensely affected us," said Milon.
Amid the ongoing construction, the existing route has developed countless puddles and cracks, causing a bumpy ride in the midst of the regular traffic flow.
The route connects a number of trade and business hubs such as Agrabad, Chattogram port, Customs House, Chattogram EPZ, Karnaphuli EPZ, and six private off-docks.
About 50,000 vehicles ply the road every day, while nearly 4 lakh workers take the route to go to Chattogram and Karnaphuli EPZs and return home.
Mahfuzur Rahman, executive engineer at the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) and director of the Elevated Expressway project, said there is no separate allocation to repair the road at the project site.
Aminul Haque Babu, a local rights activist, said it is very normal that development works will cause some inconveniences. But total inaction in dealing with the woes of the public is unacceptable.
Driving speed close to walking speed
A trip from Lalkhan Bazar to Patenga — roughly a 16.5 kilometre stretch — now takes two and a half hours, which means the average driving speed is around only 6.6 kilometres per hour.
In the absence of significant external factors, people tend to walk 5 kilometre per hour.
Md Tawshir, an eighth grader at Bangladesh Navy School and College in the EPZ area, said, "I could previously reach the school from Chattogram Port Colony within 30 minutes. Now it takes more than an hour."
Many people miss flights every day due to the delay caused on the road and unruly traffic prompted by the construction.
According to the project officials, the 16.5 kilometre patch will take only 15 to 20 minutes to be covered once the project is completed.
According to CDA sources, the Tk3,250 crore Elevated Expressway Project was approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) meeting on 11 July 2017. The project deadline was three years.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the work on 24 February 2019. The CDA project is being implemented by Max-Rankin joint venture.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "The poor condition of businesses by the elevated expressway project is very unfortunate. If this situation is prolonged, traders will face an existential crisis. The work needs to be completed quickly."
Project Director Mahfuzur Rahman has said 60% of the work on the expressway has already been completed, and that the project is expected to be completed by June 2023.