The road transport and bridges ministry has taken an initiative to construct a flyover over the Kishoreganj haor (wetlands) with an estimated cost of around Tk 58.68 billion, to be provided from the government's resources.
This initiative to construct the flyover has given rise to two questions -- 1. How justified is it to take up this initiative to construct the flyover over the haor at such a huge expense at this time of austerity when the economy is under pressure. 2. How realistic is the feasibility study's projection of the volume of vehicles to commute over the flyover?
The number of vehicles to cross the proposed flyover daily, as projected in the feasibility study, is higher than the number of vehicles that cross Padma Bridge and Bangabandhu Bridge.
According to sources in the bridges division, the 15.31 km flyover will stretch for from Mithamain in Kishoreganj to Morichkhali in Karimganj.
The bridges division prepared the project proposal in July this year. Under the project, in addition of the flyover construction, the existing 13.40km road will be widened.
The project proposal is now with the bridges ministry. From there it will be sent to the planning commission for approval. The project is to be implemented by the Bridge Authority. The project term has been fixed for July 2022 to June 2028.
Officials of the bridge division said that the all-weather Itna-Mithamain-Ashtagram road inaugurated in 2020 is not being used to the optimum because this Tk 8.74 billion road cannot connect the three upazilas of the haor with the Kishoreganj district sadar. The flyover construction project has been taken up to address this lacking.
It has been said that the objective of the flyover is to create a connection between Itna, Mithamain, Ashtagram and nearby areas with Kishoreganj Sadar. This will also directly connect Mithamain upazila with the cantonment underway there. Also, the existing road from the Nakbhanga intersection to Morichkhali Bazar will be widened. The government is placing emphasis on the construction of the flyover as the road constructed over the haor is harming the flow of water and the biodiversity of the wetlands.
Number of vehicles
The bridges division had appointed Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) to carry out the feasibility study for the implementation of the flyover project. Around Tk 200 million was spent for the purpose. According to the BUET feasibility study, this project can be implemented. The project cost, preliminary design and other preparatory work has also been carried out.
According to the feasibility study, in 2030, a total of 25,800 vehicles will cross the flyover daily. In 2045, this figure will be around 45,000. At present, an average of 21,000 vehicles daily cross the Bangabandhu Bridge along the country's busiest highway, of the Dhaka-North Bengal route. This bridge connects the entire country including the capital city Dhaka with Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions and a part of Khulna division. And, on average, around 11,000 vehicles cross the Padma Bridge daily. This bridge connects the entire country with 19 districts of the south and southwest region.
On the other hand, there is no national highway along the haor flyover route. The proposed flyover will be of two lanes. The bridges division had no explanation of how so many vehicles would cross the flyover.
Professor Khan M Amanat of BUET's civil engineering department, led the feasibility study. When asked how realistic the projection of 26,000 vehicles cross the flyover daily was, he told Prothom Alo that there would be many more development projects around the hoar and the projection was based on this. He said the government has a haor plan. There were plans to construct roads from Sunamganj and a few other areas to join up with the flyover. When all the projects materialised, vehicular movement would increase. Tourists would increase too.
The vehicles now crossing the existing road over the haor were the rudimentary 'easybikes', 'nasimon' and 'korimon'. People coming from afar to see the wetlands, travel by car. Experts say, that it is an exaggeration that more vehicles will cross the haor flyover than the vehicles over Padma Bridge and Bangabandhu Bridge.
Costs to be covered by toll
An increase in the number of tourists and easier transportation of agricultural products are being seen as the positive benefits of the haor flyover project. Three observation decks will be included to attract tourists. A total of 151 acres of land will be acquired for the project.
Toll collection is being considered as the means to cover the costs of the flyover project. The toll rate will be calculated once the flyover is constructed. The Bangladesh Bridge Authority is an autonomous body under the bridges division. It has to run on its own revenue. If it cannot earn adequately from the haor flyover, it will remain in debt to the government.
Speaking to Prothom Alo about recovering the project investment, secretary of the bridges division Md Manzoor Hossain told Prothom Alo, "The feasibility study has shown the project to be implementable. The government doesn't do all projects to make a profit." He said that the project hadn't been sent to the planning commission as yet. Certain preliminary work was being carried out. The consultant firm had submitted a feasibility report as well as a project proposal. There was still some work remaining.
Questions have also arisen about the project costs that have been initially estimated. Under the bridges division, presently a project is underway to widen the road from Panchabati in Narayanganj to Muktarpur in Munshiganj and to construct a two-tiered road. Costs on that project are Tk 1 billion per kilometre. And the cost of the proposed flyover has been estimated at Tk 1.79 billion per kilometre.
This is an absurd calculation. It has just been done to justify the projectMuhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan, mega project expert
Who will pay toll and why
When asked whether he felt the projection of vehicular movement over the flyover to be realistic, mega project expert Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan told Prothom Alo, "This is an absurd calculation. It has just been done to justify the project."
He said, there is no debate over the need to develop the communication system over the haor. However, that shouldn't just be dependent on roads or flyovers. Bangladesh's natural systems of communication are river routes.
About whether the cost of the flyover could be covered by toll collection, Fouzul Kabir Khan said, "Who will pay the toll? Why will they pay the toll? Are there any industries there?"
* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir