The tailback on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway seems never-ending. Things got worse in Daudkandi of Cumilla district, easing somewhat in Feni. Besides causing untold suffering to the commuters, this congestion is hampering transportation of essentials just before Ramadan, and obstructing smooth functioning of the export and import business. Businessmen are frustrated with the impasse on the road, wistfully called the country's 'life line'.
There was an 85-kilometre tailback in Feni due to the construction work of a flyover at Fatehpur rail crossing in Feni. Prior to Monday noon, the highway was stuck for five straight days. The situation improved in Feni on Monday, but from Sunday 8:00pm things got worse in Daudkandi. Till Wednesday evening, the tailback was 27 kilometres long, from Meghna-Gomti bridge to Madhaiya in Chandina.
As a result, it is taking 15 to 24 hours to reach Chattogram from Dhaka, although it was supposed to be a five-hour journey.
Mahmud Omar Faruk, a teacher at Chattogram University of Engineering and Technology, blamed this on poor traffic management. "They are working on this flyover in Feni. So, it is natural that there would be some congestion. But why did the Roads and Highways department not prepare an alternative route beforehand?" he wondered.
An alternative road or detour could ease the suffering on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, he observed.
Experts mentioned four reasons for this tailback. There is an increasing number of vehicles carrying essential commodities before Ramadan, cars going to and from Brahmanbaria use this road because Brahmanbaria-Narsingdi highway is full of potholes, thousands of cars are moving towards Dhaka following the end of impasse in Feni, and an accident took place on Dhaka-Sylhet highway on Monday. Officials concerned said it will take another 2-3 days before normalcy is restored.
Nazrul Islam, the Cumilla highway police superintendent, told Prothom Alo, "On Monday a car accident took place at the beginning of Dhaka-Sylhet highway. It took quite some time to retrieve the car. The impact of the accident still remains as every day 27 to 28 thousand vehicles cross the Meghna-Gomti bridge along the highway.”
“The number of good-laden vehicles has increased on the highway due to Ramadan. This creates terrible traffic congestion even if a vehicle stops for only a minute,” he added.
The speed of vehicles moving at 70-80 kilometers per hour on the four-lane highway comes down to 8-10 kilometers per hour while approaching the two lanes on the three major bridges on the road and this causes the tailback, Nazrul Islam said, adding that thousands of vehicles started moving towards Dhaka after they crossed the congestion in Feni.
Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mahbubul Alam said the tailback has dealt a blow to the country’s export sector besides hampering transportation of goods before Ramadan.
Bangladesh Exporters Association first vice president Mohammad Hatem blamed it on the mismanagement of the road transport ministry and the traffic department. "Why is there a tailback on a four-lane highway? What is the ministry and the traffic police doing?” asked an incensed Hatem.
Hatem said many businessmen are failing to ship their goods for export due to this congestion on the highway. The fare for trucks and covered vans has increased by two or three times while some are being forced to send the goods abroad by air. “This is a blow to our export sector,” he remarked.
The chief engineer of Roads and Highways Ibne Alam Hasan could not be reached for a comment despite frequent attempts.
(Abu Taher in Feni, Mujibul Huq in Narayanganj, Iqbal Hossain in Mirsarai and Krishna Chandra Das in Sitakunda helped preparing this report)
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan.