March 1, 2024, 4:16 pm

Nur Uddin Alamgir, Chattogram

2023-10-28 10:53:38 BdST

Bangabandhu Tunnel: Connectivity, trade, tourism to get big boost

The country enters the era of tunnel today as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates the architectural marvel “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel,” constructed beneath the River Karnaphuli.

After the inauguration, South Asia’s first under-river tunnel will be opened to traffic on Sunday.

The long-awaited tunnel project is poised to revolutionise connectivity, business, and tourism in the country.

By linking South Chattogram with other parts of the country, experts predict, the tunnel will significantly enhance communication networks, foster industrial expansion, attract foreign and domestic investments, and transform Chattogram into a global trade, transshipment, and logistics hub.

This project, initiated by the Bangladesh Bridge Authority under the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry, aims to connect the southern part of the port city with the Anwara upazila, following the vision of “One city two towns”.

This vision encompasses improving road communication in the Southeastern region, enhancing connectivity with the Asian highway network, modernising existing road infrastructure, developing new connections between Dhaka-Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar, promoting planned urbanisation, and bolstering facilities for Chattogram Port.

Over the past few years, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar have experienced significant development with projects such as the coal-fired power plant, Matarbari Deep Seaport, LNG Terminal, Single Point Mooring (SPM), the largest specialised economic zone – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpanagar, and Bay Terminal.

This infrastructural development is expected to stimulate an increase in the transportation of goods and people to and from Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar, along with rising investments and business activities.

However, the existing communication infrastructure, including the two bridges on the River Karnaphuli, may not be equipped to handle the future challenges.

The Bangabandhu Tunnel will address this concern, providing a modern and faster communication system for the region.

“It will take only 10-15 minutes to travel to the Chattogram city from the upazila while they had to spend around two hours earlier,” mentioned Md Nurul Islam, a social worker residing in a village at the Anwara end of the tunnel.

The tunnel’s impact is evident in the transformation of the local landscape, with commercial banks setting up branches and business conglomerates purchasing land for future industrial development.

Land prices have seen a significant increase in areas near the tunnel’s approach road, such as Kala Bibir Dighir Morr and CUFL point.

“Five years ago, the cost of one ganda of land in Kala Bibir Dighir Morr was Tk5-7 lakh. But, the current price ranges from Tk40-50 lakh. The same scenario is also prevailing at the CUFL point, with prices for a ganda of land shooting up to Tk30-40 lakh from Tk5-6 lakh,” said Nurul Islam.

“A good number of small business firms have been developed, leaving an impact on the socio-economic condition of the locals,” he added.

The tunnel’s significance extends beyond economic development. It has enhanced the importance of the Patenga area, which already houses the Chattogram Shah Amanat International Airport, Patenga Sea Beach, Naval Academy, and the landing point of the under-construction 16km Chattogram elevated expressway.

“Huge flocks of tourists will throng to the area to have a glimpse of the Bay of Bengal and the tunnel, altering the socio-economic landscape,” noted Md Saleh Ahmed, councillor of the city’s South Patenga Ward.

Syed Mohammed Tanvir, managing director of Pacific Jeans Group, emphasised the tunnel’s role in addressing the shortage of industrial land in Chattogram due to the River Karnaphuli acting as a natural barrier.

The tunnel’s “One city two towns” model is expected to support industrial expansion on the river’s other bank, where a Chinese economic zone is also under development, he said.

“The tunnel has emerged as an alternative connectivity for South Chattogram and other parts of the country. It will allow the people, who will go to Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban, to reach the destinations bypassing the Chattogram city and its nagging traffic congestion,” he said.

While the benefits of the project may not be immediately visible, it is anticipated that they will be significant within the next decade, the industrialist hoped.

Mahbubul Alam, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), expressed optimism about the tunnel’s impact on communication, business, and tourism.

The increased connectivity will undoubtedly facilitate the growing economic activities centring Chattogram and South Chattogram, he added.

Easing movement to and from country’s premier seaport, under-construction Bay Terminal, Matarbari Deep Seaport and Bangabandhu Shilpanagar will also unlock new potentials in the country’s export and import business, maintained Mahbubul.

Additionally, tourism at Patenga, Parki Beach in Anwara, Bandarban and the Cox’s Bazar will be boosted further, he observed.

Mahbubul also believed that the tunnel would support Bangladesh’s advancement towards becoming a trillion-dollar economy.

Preparation for smooth operation

The necessary commissioning and safety drills for the much-awaited tunnel have been completed. With 100% completion of the work related to the tunnel, the entire project has clocked around 99% said sources concerned.

Project Director Harunur Rashid Chowdhury said that all necessary and safety measures have been ensured for operating the tunnel smoothly.

“Drills in normal and emergency moods have been conducted to examine the developed systems,” he said, adding that the tolls and other necessary issues have also been finalised by the authorities concerned.

If any vehicle got out of order inside the tunnel, the operation and maintenance team would clear it within five minutes, Harunur said, adding that there are some 100 CCTV cameras and a number of sensors to notify any abnormality.

All the systems including ventilation, drainage, communication and fire fighting required for safe and secured movement of people have been ensured, said Harunur Rashid.

The tunnel was designed considering its lifetime of 100 years and the China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCCL) will be responsible for operation and maintenance for the first five years, he added.

Mentionable, completion of civil work on the second tube of the tunnel was celebrated on 26 November last year. The excavation for this tube was finished in October, connecting both banks of the river through the twin tubes.

The boring work for the first tube was completed on 2 August last while the second tube work started on 12 December 2020.

Delving into the project

China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCL) implemented the monumental 9.39km tunnel project and will also work for the maintenance and collecting tolls.

The multi-lane two-tube main tunnel stretches 3.315km, flanked by approach roads spanning 5.35km and a viaduct measuring 727 metres. The tubes with 2.45 kilometre length and 10.80 metre diameter were set up at 42.80 metre from the water-level and 31 metre from the riverbed.

Vehicles will initially ply at the maximum speed of 60km per hour through the tunnel having the highest slope of 4%.

A total of 19,616 segments constructed at the tunnel segment casting plant in Jiangsu of China were installed at the tubes. Bungalows, motel mess resort reception, convention centre, mosque, overhead water tank, health centre, museum, water treatment plant, two bridges, internal drainage system and internal roads are being developed in the service area at Anwara end.

The tunnel will establish connectivity between Patenga in the port city and CUFL point at Anwara upazila.

An outer ring road extending 17 km and 90 ft in width, equipped with four lanes, will connect the tunnel at the Patenga.

This project, estimated at Tk10,689.71 crore, is financed by the governments of Bangladesh and China. Of the amount, Bangladesh will provide Tk4,619.71 crore while China Tk6,070 crore.

According to the feasibility study report, over 20,719 vehicles will ply every day through the tunnel. Of the vehicles, 3,837 are heavy ones. The number of vehicles is expected to be 28,305 in 2025 while 37,946 in 2030 and 162,000 in 2067.

The foundation stone for the tunnel was laid by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping on 14 October 2017, and the boring work was inaugurated by the Prime Minister on 24 February 2019.

Instructions for users

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Bridge Authority has issued a public notice recently saying that the tunnel will be opened to traffic at 6:00am on 29 October.

The notice requested the users to abide by some rules for overall safety and protecting longevity of the tunnel.

The notice said the highest speed limit inside the tunnel would be 60 km per hour and no vehicle beyond the fixed weight, width and height will be allowed.

Vehicles to be used for carrying firearm, explosive and fuel, and the three-wheelers including rickshaw, van, CNG-run auto-rickshaw and auto-rickshaws, motorcycle, cycle, non-motorised ones and people passing on foot will not be allowed inside the tunnel, it read.

No vehicle will also be allowed to stop inside the tunnel while capturing photos will remain prohibited.

Toll rate for vehicles

According to the toll set by the authority, personal vehicles, jeeps and pickups have to pay Tk200 to pass through the tunnel.

The microbuses have to pay Tk250 while buses with 31 or less seats and 32 or more seats have to pay Tk300 and Tk400 respectively, buses having three axles Tk500, trucks of five, eight and 11 tonnes capacity Tk400, Tk500 and Tk600 respectively, truck and trailer of three and four axles and more Tk800 and Tk1,000. Tk200 more has to pay for each additional axel.

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