After inspecting the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Cherag Ali area of Tongi on 3 September last year, road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader had made an assurance that there will be no sufferings on the highway in the next monsoon.
“Hopefully, the people will not suffer on this road during the next monsoon. This will be the last rainy season of suffering.” he said, adding that the BRT project will finish within the following December.
A year later, the minister, at a press conference on 16 October, said the project has become a thorn in the flesh for them.
The road transport ministry is implementing the BRT project, covering a stretch of 20.5 kilometers from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) to Joydebpur in Gazipur.
The commuters have been suffering from severe traffic congestions since the commencement of the project. It became a common phenomenon on the route as the construction work narrowed the road down and created numerous potholes. Whenever it rains, knee-deep water accumulates in places on the busy highway and disrupts vehicular movement.
A one-hour distance sometimes takes five to seven hours to cross. On the whole, the BRT project has now become a synonym to suffering.
The road transport minister, secretary and other project officials had visited the project many times, promised to mitigate the sufferings, and announced the deadline for launching the facility.
All these efforts went in vain and made no difference in reality. The days elapse, but the project does not complete and the public sufferings do not end.
The government had taken up the BRT project in 2012. The elevated expressway was supposed to open by 2016, with special bus services. The authorities said about the objective of the project that it will ensure commutes of some 20,000 people every hour without any traffic jam, signal, or any other obstacle.
The project completed by 81.65 per cent until August this year when the project cost jumped by 109 per cent to Tk 22.25 billion.
Minister Obaidul Quader could not be reached for a statement on the issue despite repeated attempts on Thursday. ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, secretary of the road transport ministry, told Prothom Alo that he held meetings with the project officials and contractors until evening on Thursday.
Due to heavy traffic, the construction work cannot be done on the road except for Friday and Saturday, he said, adding that they adopted a plan to work more at night.
However, he claimed the traffic jam had increased on the route due to the impact of cyclone Sitrang and it has reduced now. The secretary also blamed the construction work of the third terminal at HSIA and frequent VIP movement for the excessive traffic congestion.
They set a target to finish the project by next March, he added.
Miseries of commuters
According to the road transport ministry sources, a survey conducted by the BRT project in 2019 showed that an average of 24,754 vehicles ply daily in the road stretching from Tongi college gate to Bhogra bypass.
Another survey conducted by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) at the beginning of the current year said around 40,000 vehicles regularly pass through the Abdullahpur area.
On the condition of anonymity, a responsible official of the road transport ministry said the four-year project has not been completed even in 10 years. The project costs increased, some people died after being smashed under the girder, and thousands of people are suffering – still the ministry or the government is not raising any question as to who is accountable for all these.
So far, no government official involved in the project has been held accountable. Only the contractor was blamed for the girder accident, but he did not have to face any fine, blacklisting, or any other punishment, said the official.
The BRT project is being implemented from the Dhaka airport to Joydebpur. It is the main route for the people of the greater Mymensingh region, let alone the residents of Uttara, Tongi and Gazipur.
Also, it is an alternative route for road communication from Dhaka to Kishoreganj, Brahmanbaria, and the greater Sylhet region. A large number of North Bengal-bound vehicles ply via Uttara and Abdullahpur.
The traffic police, nowadays, are frequently advising people to avoid the BRT project area. The DMP issued a notification on 24 October, saying that there has been water logging due to potholes in different areas of Gazipur on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway amid the incessant downpour brought by the cyclone Sitrang.
The police had issued another notice on 10 August, asking the commuters to start their journey on the route with extra time in hand.
Where is the end?
Six people lost their lives in three accidents during the project’s construction work without any safety measures. Five members of a family died after a girder of the project fell on a moving private car on the airport road on 15 August.
The lending agency – Asian Development Bank (ADB) – told the government that the construction work cannot resume without full assurance of safety. Heavy work has been suspended since then.
The project sources said an amount of Tk 93,000 was allocated for vehicle management, road maintenance, and associated safety measures in each kilometer per month. It means the authorities are paying Tk 1.9 million in total per month to ensure safety in the project areas.
An engineer of the roads and highways department said on the condition of anonymity that before launching a construction work, it is necessary to assess how much space will be directly required and how much its effective area is. Then it needs to fence the area and employ security guards.
But, no attempt has been made in the BRT project to identify and secure the effective areas, he noted.
The BRT project sources said the authorities are struggling to ensure security in line with the ADB requirements. The cranes hired by the contractor are deficient in terms of capacity while the heavy construction vehicle operators do not have proper licenses.
The contractor does not have the necessary financial resources and expertise to fence the construction sites properly. All these issues have put the project in limbo.
Against such a backdrop, the authorities are trying to open a part of the elevated expressway from Uttara to Tongi, leaving other work of the project incomplete.
Hadiuzzaman, professor of civil engineering department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said it is quite abnormal for a BRT project to take such a long time to implement in the era of modern technology.
He said the country’s main airport is situated on the route while there are industrial areas in Gazipur. The traffic gridlock for hours is causing financial losses. Besides, the commuters are going through physical and mental hardships. It should be pinpointed why the sufferings of people are continue unabated.