Bangabandhu tunnel touted to fast-track Chattogram's growth, connectivity

The prime minister will inaugurate the tunnel under the Karnaphuli River in a grand event, and it will be open for traffic from 6am the next day

Zafar AhmedMitoon Chowdhurybdnews24.com
Published : 27 Oct 2023, 10:24 PM
Updated : 27 Oct 2023, 10:24 PM

The bustling ports lining one side of the Karnaphuli River and the heavy industries on the opposite bank are drawing closer - they are becoming increasingly interconnected.

Chattogram residents will witness a historic event on Saturday as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina takes a significant stride towards fulfilling the government's ambitious goal of shaping the port city into a city like China's Shanghai.

Hasina will inaugurate the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the Karnaphuli River in a grand event, and it will be open for traffic from 6am the next day.

The government hopes that the tunnel’s opening will lead to positive changes on both sides of the river, sparking economic growth, and improving communication on a global scale.

"We are fully prepared for the inauguration," Md Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, director of Construction of Multilane Road Tunnel Under River Karnaphuli Project, told bdnews24.com.

The inauguration ceremony will be held at the tunnel's Patenga end, with the prime minister travelling through the tunnel to the Anwara side after announcing its opening in the morning. Later, she will speak at the ruling Awami League's public rally at the Korean Export Processing Zone ground.

The project aims to link with the Asian highway network, enhance connectivity on both sides of the Karnaphuli River, and turn Chattogam into a "one city with two towns” model similar to Shanghai in China, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said at a briefing at Setu Bhaban in Dhaka on Thursday.

Local residents are also excited about the tunnel's opening.

Saiful Haque, an Anwara resident, believes that the tunnel will significantly improve the city's connection with the southern part of Chattogram, making their lives much easier.

He mentioned that previously, it took nearly two hours to reach the airport due to traffic, but with the tunnel, it would only take 15 minutes.

And when the elevated expressway becomes operational, travel to Agrabad will be even quicker, Saiful said.

THE INAUGURATION

Hasina will inaugurate the tunnel by unveiling a plaque on the west bank of the Karnaphuli River in Patenga. She will then drive through the tunnel, pay the toll at the Anwara end, and unveil another plaque on the south bank. As part of the ceremony, the prime minister will also release a special commemorative postage stamp, an opening envelope, and a special seal.

The port city is all set for the prime minister's visit. Chattogram City Corporation has decorated the entire city, with streets in the city and Anwara displaying posters and banners of AL leaders and activists to welcome her.

They have also placed a mural of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and a traditional sampan in front of Shah Amanat International Airport in Patenga. Instead of the usual public meeting stage, they are building one in the shape of a boat.

The ruling party leaders are expecting a turnout of about one million people for this public meeting.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TUNNEL

There will be better connectivity between the tourist city Cox’s Bazar, southern Chattogram and the rest of the country once the tunnel is open. It will also decrease the number of vehicles using the two bridges over the river.

The main tunnel is 3.32 kilometres long. It has two tubes, each 2.45 km long, and has a diameter of 10.80 metres. Each tube will consist of two lanes. The tubes are 12 metres apart from each other.

There will be a 5.35 km connecting road on the west and east ends of the main tunnel, along with a 727-metre long bridge.

The tunnel goes under the Karnaphuli at the Patenga Naval Academy point in the port city to a depth of 18m to 31m to Anwara Upazila on the other side of the river.

There are five access points to the tunnel from its north end facing the port city -- Outer Ring Road, Elevated Expressway, Kathgarh Road, Airport Road and Patenga Beach Road.

South of the river in Anwara lies the Korean and Chinese export processing zones, the Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited factory and Parki Beach. All routes to Cox's Bazar, Banshkhali, and Matarbari power station and deep seaport go through Anwara.

With the aim of connecting the Asian Highway and building a new road link between Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar, the Bangladesh government and China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) jointly constructed the tunnel.

The government also hopes that the tunnel will play a role in increasing the existing facilities of Chattogram Port and accelerating the construction of the proposed deep sea port in Matarbari.

It will take 15 minutes from Anwara Sadar to Shah Amanat Airport via the tunnel, which itself takes 3.5 minutes to cross.

Once Chattogram's first elevated expressway near the tunnel's Patenga entrance opens, one can reach Agrabad or the GEC junction in 10-15 minutes. The expressway project is almost done.

Also, from KEPZ to the proposed bay terminal at Chattogram Port, it'll be a 10-15 minute trip through the tunnel. Going from KEPZ to Chattogram Port via the tunnel will take 15-20 minutes.

Azad Moinuddin, a bank official, travels from Jamal Khan to a private bank in the tunnel link road area for daily work.

He said, "Getting to Jamalkhan using the Shah Amanat Bridge is convenient for us. But the tunnel will be a faster and more convenient choice for people commuting to and from other parts of the city, like the EPZ or the port area."

MA Qayyum Shah, the chairman of Barasat union in Anwara, told bdnews24.com that the tunnel has not only shortened travel time but also led to the construction of a six-lane road stretching to Dighi in Kalabibi.

He mentioned that land prices in their area have surged.

They anticipate a significant boost in tourism at Parki Beach with the opening of the tunnel.

He believes the tunnel will improve business and the overall quality of life.

“However, for Anwara to thrive, we need urbanisation, improved de-congestion, drainage management, and industrial waste control plans," he said.

There are three bridges over the Karnaphuli River, but the riverbed is getting filled with silt, causing issues for cargo ships trying to reach Chattogram Port.

Industrialisation is on the rise along the south bank of the Karnaphuli River, leading to increased transportation demands to the tourist destination of Cox's Bazar.

To address this, the government opted for a tunnel instead of more bridges, which could jeopardise the river's navigability.

The Anwara end of the tunnel houses a heavy industrial area, including major export industries like CUFL, Karnaphuli Fertilizer Company Limited, and Korean EPZ, responsible for exporting more than $1 billion worth of products annually.

There is also the Chinese Economic and Industrial Zone (CEIZ) project underway in the Gahira area, with a government-to-government (G2G) investment method of Tk 160 billion proposed for Anwara.

This project aims to establish 371 industrial plants. Maheshkhali Upazila, situated south of Anwara, houses the country's first deep-sea port and is being developed as an economic hub.

The tunnel will provide uninterrupted road connectivity between these areas, allowing export products from South Chattogram to reach the port quickly, benefiting exporters.

In 2008, Hasina pledged to construct this tunnel, which has now become a reality.

In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hasina officially launched the project.

According to the project director, 98.5 percent of the work is already complete, with only finishing touches needed on the tunnel's exterior, which is expected to be done by December.

PROJECTED TUNNEL TRAFFIC

A feasibility study conducted by CCCC and Hong Kong-based firm Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd in 2013 projected that in the first year of operation, the tunnel would see 6300000 vehicles pass through, equivalent to around 17,260 vehicles daily.

By 2025, it's expected that the daily average will increase to 28,305 vehicles, with a gradual rise to 14 million vehicles

In the tunnel's initial year, roughly 51 percent of the traffic will comprise container-carrying trailers, trucks, and vans, while the remaining 49 percent will be made up of 300000 buses and minibuses, along with 1200000 cars, jeeps, and various small vehicles.

BANGABANDHU TUNNEL CONSTRUCTION JOURNEY

On Nov 12, 2015, the government approved the project, and on Nov 24, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the Tk 80 billion ‘dream project’.

The project was targeted to be completed by 2020.

Work on the project began in December 2017, two years after getting the greenlight due to delays in loan disbursement.

Jointly funded by Bangladesh and China, the initial cost of the project was estimated at Tk 84.47 billion.

In November 2018, the project was revised, increasing the cost to approximately Tk 19.3 billion and extending the timeline by one and a half years.

The revised cost was Tk 103.74 billion, with a planned completion date of December 2021.

However, as the project wasn't completed on time, the cost increased by Tk 3.15 billion, leading to a second revision in January. This brought the project cost to around Tk 106.90 billion, and the Chinese debt grew to Tk 59.13 billion due to the higher expenses. The deadline was extended by a year to December of this year.

[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]