The Bridges Division decided to chalk out a plan after Chattogram Metropolitan Police provided a grim projection of the traffic situation for the decade following the expected opening of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel by the end of 2022.
According to the new plan, road infrastructure, including the tunnel, will be developed to last for a century in view of the potential economic expansion around the port city.
Several roads lead to Chattogram city from Patenga. In the near future, if there is a massive expansion of economic activities in Chattogram around the Bangabandhu Tunnel, traffic jams may ensue at various points, including the tunnel's entrance, said CMP Commissioner Saleh Md Tanvir.
In eight to 10 years, commercial activities will rise and the capacity of the port is also increasing by the day. “All in all, we think there will be [traffic] problems after 10 years," said Saleh.
After the bridge authorities were alerted to the traffic concerns surrounding the tunnel, a committee headed by the CMP commissioner was formed on Sept 28 to construct a traffic route on both sides.
Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, the project director, said that the committee has held several meetings during which it has been suggested that the roads around the tunnel, including the approach road, be constructed with a view to avoiding traffic jams.
The underwater tunnel project, the first of its kind in the country, is a part of the 'One City Two Towns' initiative for Chattogram, based on the development of the Chinese city of Shanghai.
South of the river in Anwara lies the Korean and Chinese export processing zones, the CUFL factory and Parki Beach. All routes to Cox's Bazar, Banshkhali and Matarbari power station and deep seaport go through Anwara.
There are five access points to the tunnel from its northern end facing the port city -- Outer Ring Road, Elevated Expressway, Kathgarh Road, Airport Road and Patenga Beach Road.
It is feared that these roads may experience clogging due to the increased load of vehicles heading towards the tunnel.
"Over the next 10 years, there is little risk of traffic jams considering the number of vehicles that will go through the tunnel. But when industrial activities centred around Anwara and Cox's Bazar start, traffic will increase," said Bridges Secretary Abu Bakr Siddique.
"A separate plan is being drawn up to deal with that pressure and to build a planned infrastructure for the next 100 years."
He said the Chattogram Development Authority, or CDA, has been tasked with charting the necessary roads and traffic schemes at the northern end of the tunnel, while the Bridges Division will focus on the infrastructure at the southern end leading to Anwara.
The Bridges Division along with the construction firms China Communication Construction Company Limited and Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong jointly conducted the technical and economic study for the tunnel's construction.
The bridges secretary said the authorities are making fresh plans because the technical and economic study did not outline traffic management for the decade after the tunnel’s opening.
The study estimates that 6.3 million vehicles will be able to move through the tunnel in its inaugural year, with the probable figure jumping to 13.9 million once the deep seaports and economic zones in Cox's Bazar are operational from 2030 onwards. As much as 50 percent of the traffic is likely to comprise freight vehicles.
M Shamsul Hoque, professor of BUET's civil engineering department, described the survey as a "patchwork". "It [the survey] cannot be called 'planned development' -- it's just a temporary solution."
"It's not just the tunnel project -- we have these shortcomings in every project."
Due to the lack of professional knowledge within its agencies, the government is accepting whatever findings have been made in the survey by the consulting institute, according to him. "Even the Planning Commission does not have a skilled planner for this."
Secretary Siddique said that the traffic management committee headed by the CMP commissioner has prepared a 'road map' to deal with long-term issues. An underpass will be built towards Patenga beach in Chattogram under that plan.
He believes the Bangabandhu Tunnel project will be completed within the stipulated deadline, which is December 2022.
Jointly funded by Bangladesh and China, the initial cost of the project was estimated at Tk 98.8 billion. Work on the project began in December 2017, two years after getting the greenlight. The cost was subsequently revised up to Tk 103.74 billion.
The main tunnel is 3.32 km long, while the length of each of the two tubes is 2.45 km with a diameter of 10.60 m. The tubes will each consist of two lanes. There will be a 5.35 km connecting road on the west and east ends of the main tunnel along with a 727 m long overbridge.
The project director said that the work is being carried out in accordance with the design. Overall, 74.30 percent of the work has been completed, using up 67.85 percent of the funds so far.
Prof Shamsul Hoque said that any important and large infrastructure project needs to be planned as a sound and long-term solution for the integrated communication system in the region, but that was not the case with the Bangabandhu Tunnel project.
During the survey of the project, he said, nothing was mentioned about the traffic load from the port city or after the industrialisation of south Chattogram.
“We have invested so much to find a way across the river. But the survey did not reflect the government's development philosophy.”
The infrastructure expert believes that short-term, temporary and inconsistent plans are being adopted in this way with the intention of extracting as much financing as possible.
Giving the road infrastructure development in the capital as an example, he said, "Every time a project is taken up in Dhaka, it is said that it will end traffic congestions in the city. But it has never happened."