The Chattogram city end of the underwater tunnel has started near Patenga Naval Academy.

Excavation of the first tube, which started from this end, started on 2 August 2020. Excavation of the tube from the Anwara end of the river started on 12 December the same year.

The tunnel will start from the city end and will run through the middle of the boundary between Kafko and CUFL to connect with Anwara end of the Karnaphuli river. A “one city two town system” will be set up in Chattogram following the Shanghai model in China.

The first ever underwater tunnel of the country is named after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The estimated cost of this project is Tk 103.74 billion (10,374 crore). There is a possibility of the country’s GDP to be increased by 0.17 per cent once the project is completed.

Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, director of the tunnel project, told Prothom Alo that there were complications due to the pandemic and land acquisition at the beginning. However, the problem is solved now. Therefore, the authorities concerned are expecting to open the tunnel for vehicular movement within the next 18 months.

The length of the main tunnel is 3.32 kilometres. The length of each tube of the tunnel is 2.45 kilometres and the diameter is 10.8 metres. The tunnel will contain four lanes altogether, two in each tube.

There will be 5.35 kilometres of linking roads connecting the main tunnel at the western and eastern ends. Besides, a 727-metre over bridge will be constructed.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina made a pledge to construct this tunnel during an election campaign before the general election in 2008. The initiatives for the construction of this tunnel began after the Awami League had come to power.

The engineers concerned say the bridges authority, the China Communication Construction Company Limited (CCCCL) and Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Limited jointly conducted a survey on the engineering of the tunnel and the finance in 2012.

Later during prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China in June 2014, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the basis of the G2G agreement. It was the Chinese government that chose CCCCL for the construction of the tunnel. On 30 June that year, the bridges authority and CCCCL signed a trade deal.

According to the officials concerned, the work on the construction of an economic zone, a deep sea port and a power plant are also going in the area between the southern banks of Karnaphuli and Cox’s Bazar.

All of these constructions are based on the construction of the tunnel. Everyone is waiting to enjoy the multiple advantages of the tunnel. The tunnel will also boost the tourism sector of Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar.

Once the tunnel is open for vehicular movement, Chattogram-bound vehicles would not need to go through the main city. People would be able to reach their destination quickly through the tunnel via Chattogram’s outer ring road. Subsequently it will decrease the pressure of vehicles in the Chattogram city.

Progress of the project

Till now, the biggest progress is the completion of the excavation of one of the two tubes in the tunnel and the road construction has already started in that tunnel. As of last May, 788 metres of roadways have been constructed. The excavation of the second tube is ongoing. So far, excavation of 1,610 metres has been completed.

Apart from these, the construction of a flood gate at the Patenga end of the tunnel has been completed. The two linking roads are also under construction. And the construction of the 727-metre bridge also progressed a lot.

According to the monthly progress report of the project, as of May this year, the physical progress of the project is 75 per cent.

The progress of the project was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, said the engineers concerned. The project progressed by only 15 per cent in the time between 26 March 2020 and April 2021.

Engineers affiliated with the project said the project was greatly hampered by the pandemic as the construction company is Chinese. Besides, different sorts of construction materials are also brought from China and the supply was affected by the coronavirus. After the emergence of coronavirus in the country, construction work was conducted on a limited scale. However, the project did not progress much amid the first lockdown.

Of the major works of the project, the construction work of the linking road is going on. And some 362.32 acres of land has already been acquired. The total requirement is 382.8 acres of land. The rest of the land is also in the process of rapid acquisition.

Spot visit

During a recent visit to the Patenga end of the city, it was seen that the work of plaster moulding is underway for the construction of the roads in the first tube. At the entrance of the tunnel, the construction of linking roads proceeds in full swing.

It is also seen that the work of pilling the 5.35-kilometre connecting road up to Chatori Chaumuhani at the Anwara end of the tunnel is also underway. However, it is not finished yet. Besides, the construction of a 727-metre over bridge is nearly complete. The spans and girders have already been set up.

Apart from this, the work of construction for various establishments (resort area and service area) in the project area is underway on the east side of the CUFL.

Meanwhile, the work of six lanes from the linking roads of the tunnel to Y junction has also started. The work of felling trees and pilling has started as part of the road extension.

Increased cost and duration

In a meeting in November 2015, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the tunnel project titled “Construction of Multi Lane Road Tunnel Under the River Karnafuli”. The project was scheduled to be completed by June, 2020 and the estimated cost of this project was Tk 84.47 billion (8,446 crore and 63 lakh). Administrative approval was given by the road transport and bridges ministry for the implementation of the project on 29 December 2015.

Three years after the approval of the project, on 24 February 2019, prime minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction work of the tunnel under the Karnaphuli river. And bridges minister Obaidul Quader inaugurated the work on the second tube of the tunnel on 12 December 2020.

However, both the cost and duration of the project increased after the construction work had started. The duration of the project has been extended to December 2022. And the cost of the project has increased by Tk 19.27 billion (1,927 crore). The overall cost of the project has increased up to Tk 103.74 billion (10,374 crore).

The Bangladesh government is providing the financial assistance of Tk 44.6123 billion (4,461.23 crore) while the Exim Bank of China is providing the remaining Tk 59.13 billion (5,913.19 crore) as project assistance. This money has to be repaid as a loan. The interest rate on the loan is 2 per cent.

The repayment of this loan will start two years after the completion of the construction work, said project director Harunur Rashid Chowdhury. Despite the increase in the project cost and duration, he refused to agree to that.

He claimed that the value of Bangladeshi taka against 1 US dollar was 80 at the initial stage of the project. Which is 83 now. Besides, the costs of some relevant works, including the installment of pipelines for the service providers, were not taken into account at first. These are the reasons for the increase in the project expenditure. However, it is not so high. And although the project was approved in 2015, the works began in December 2017. According to that, the estimated five years for the project will end in December 2022.

When asked about this, Bangladesh Economic Association’s former president Muinul Islam told Prothom Alo that the project was delayed a bit due to the pandemic. However, the pace of the project is quite good at the moment.

The Bangabandhu tunnel will become very important for communication after the completion of the marine drive from Mirsarai industrial area to Matarbari in Cox's Bazar.

"We will get the full advantages of the tunnel once the construction of marine drive is completed," Muinul Islam said.

Former professor of the Department of Economics at the Chattogram University said that various industrial areas including the China EPZ, have sprung up at the Anwara end due to the construction of the tunnel. Now, if the authorities concerned wants, they can shift some of their activity to the other side of the river.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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