Dhaka-Ctg road projects in limbo

Loopholes in tender process, lack of coordination hold back 2 crucial initiatives
M Abul Kalam Azad

Two projects aiming to improve communications between Dhaka and Chittagong, the most vital road link for the country’s economic growth, get entangled in loopholes in floating tenders and lack of coordination among the authorities concerned.

The projects — upgrading the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway into a four-lane road and constructing a second Dhaka-Chittagong highway — were initiated four years ago. But no headway could be made although the busiest yet narrow highway continues causing human casualties and economic loss every year.

The four-lane project aimed at upgrading the existing highway has been cancelled twice due to loopholes in the tender process and lack of coordination between the communications ministry and the Roads and Highway Department (RHD).

Although the present government took a fresh move for the four-lane project and floated a pre-qualification tender on June 11, the project file of the second highway is gathering dust for three years.

No-one at the two offices can say anything about this project.

Experts say increasing number of traffic on the highway would cause more accidents, leaving more casualties as implementation of the projects may take years.

“The average daily traffic on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is now 15,277 vehicles, while it was 13,720 last year,” AKM Fazlul Karim, an executive engineer of the RHD database division told The Daily Star.

The second highway project is more or less buried as the government despite floating an international tender in 2006 failed to find a firm. Only one company, Malaysia-based construction firm Azimat Consortium, bid for it.

But the government as per rules cannot select a firm that alone bid for such projects.

RHD Executive Engineer Md Sabbir Hasan Khan is hopeful about the four-lane project. “The last date for submission of bid is August 11. We hope a number of qualified firms will come forward from which we can select one,” he told The Daily Star.

The four-lane dual carriageway spanning 215 kilometres from Dhaka to Chittagong will be constructed on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis.

The estimated cost for this project will go up by several hundred crores taka following twice cancellation of the tender. The estimated cost will be as high as Tk 2,400 crore compared to the previous estimated cost of Tk 2,168 crore, officials say.

Azimat Consortium proposed it would take five years to complete construction of the second highway. After operating for 30 years and recovering the investment through toll, the expressway will be handed over to the government, the proposal says.

The RHD sources say if the second highway is constructed, it will be the first expressway in the country with facilities like adequate parking space, refuelling stations, food courts and rest houses at regular intervals.

This expressway would cut the journey time between the two major cities to three hours from existing seven to eight hours. It would also help improve the economic corridor between the capital and the port city.

“The second highway will not only ensure safe journey in a smooth traffic environment but also cut operation costs saving fuel. The proposed highway would also provide higher level of service with uninterrupted traffic flow,” says an RHD official.

A three-route option has been kept open from which one would be selected for the highway.

The first one runs parallel to the existing highway, while the second route starts from Jatrabari towards Narayanganj and then moves to the south to cross the Dhaleshwari river, Munshiganj, the Meghna and finally reaches Chittagong through Chandpur and Noakhali.

The third probable route begins from Jatrabari to reach Chittagong by crossing Laksham and Feni and will be the shortest and most direct one.

The country’s busiest highway linking the prime port city and the capital has become a death trap due to its narrowness. Traffic cannot move uninterrupted on it which causes extra fuel consumption and eats up valuable time of the passengers.

Communications Minister Syed Abdul Hossain said upgrading the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is one of the priority projects of his ministry.

“I hope there will be no trouble regarding tender of the project,” he told The Daily Star.