Five years ago, the government approved the elevated expressway project in the port city of Chattogram with the aim of easing traffic congestion and reducing travel time to the airport. But now, the Chattogram Development Authority is proposing to change the design of the structure, which is set to drive up the cost by 32 percent to around Tk 43 billion.
The project, covering a 16-kilometre stretch of the road from Lalkhan Bazar to Shah Amanat International Airport, has brought untold hardships to citizens. And, their suffering is now likely to continue for at least another two years.
The project was slated to end in 2022 on the back of a two-year extension on an unchanged budget.
Now, the plan to readjust the alignment, ramp and span length of the new expressway will prolong the existing woes of road users if the deadline is extended again.
Despite the changes being mooted, CDA's Chief Engineer Kazi Hasan Bin Shams claims there were no defects in the previous design.
Project Director Mahfuzur Rahman says the previous design was only a draft, while the new plan is the final one.
An official at the Planning Commission said if the old design is implemented, problems with the ramps, alignment and other issues will persist, which in turn will hamper traffic instead of easing it.
Planning Secretary Mamun-Al-Rashid said the proposal is expected to be presented in this week’s meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC). The ECNEC gave the greenlight to the project in 2017 and work began in mid-2018.
However, objections by the Chattogram Port Authority and police’s traffic department, land acquisition challenges, problems with the design for the Lalkhan Bazar portion of the project and arrangement of alternative routes have already delayed the project by two years.
Officials said the first design did not take into account the plans to expand Chattogram Port, especially the development of the road from Saltgola to Barrick Building. To ensure the viability of the road, the alignment of the elevated expressway must be changed, they said.
CDA Chief Engineer Hasan said they held meetings with all the stakeholders before starting the project and no one raised any objection at the time. But after the work began, the port authority said their traffic would be hampered.
“After a series of meetings, they’ve agreed to give us 30 feet of land to change the alignment."
Without directly pointing out the alleged flaw in the previous design, he said, “In the previous design, seven ramps were erected in that [port] area. Now, 14 ramps will be built in line with their demand.”
The CDA was supposed to use pre-stressed concrete girders to construct the ramps. The new proposal says the ramps will now be built over reinforced concrete box girders so that long vehicles can use the expressway.
The spans will be 45-50 metres long under the new plan while they were 30-35 metres in the old one. The number of piers will be increased so that the constructors can use narrow piers to keep the road wide. The grade of concrete will also be improved.
Delwar Majumder, a former chairman of the Chattogram Centre of the Institution of Engineers, said the authorities should not have started the project without settling the issues with the other agencies and conducting a proper study.
“Now, the cost and suffering will increase while people will have to wait longer for the expressway.”
Project Director Mahfuzur said the feasibility study preceding the project primarily focused on the expressway’s impact on traffic, rather than the design. “It was a rough design, not the final one.”
He said the cost will mainly increase because the government will need to acquire 10 acres of land to facilitate the new design. The old design required only 2 acres of land. This will lead to a Tk 570 million increase in the cost.
The cost of moving the utility lines was estimated to be Tk 180 million. Now, Tk 2.2 billion will be needed for the work.
About 70 percent of the project has been completed, Kazi Hasan said, adding that they plan to open an eight-kilometre stretch of the expressway from Patenga to Nimtala by February 2023.
Vehicles from South Chattogram will be able to use that section to travel to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, which will pass under the Karnaphuli River once it is completed.