One of the mega projects of the government, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel beneath the Karnaphuli River is going one step further towards completion.
The second mouth of the tunnel will be opened Friday, Planning Minister MA Mannan told reporters after a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on Tuesday.
He said, “Our Bangabandhu Tunnel is one of the biggest mega projects of our dreams. The construction work was supposed to end in December 2022. However, the people involved in the project have informed the ECNEC meeting that it will be completed before that deadline.”
The project director told the Bangladesh Post that if the construction work proceeds at the current pace, it will be completed before the 2022 December deadline.
Experts said the tunnel will strengthen the role of Chattogram as the centre of communication, ease communication on Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar national highway, improve communication between both sides of the Karnaphuli River, and lessen the pressure of traffic on the two existing bridges over the river.
Dr Atiur Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank and eminent economist, told the Bangladesh Post, “The Karnafuli Tunnel will also be an environment-friendly connectivity which will save time for many.”
“Tunnels are more cost-effective than bridges. This will reduce the cost of travel both for individual and commercial vehicles. The value addition to the economy can be substantial. I haven’t calculated the value addition, but there will be huge gains in terms of GDP,” he added.
The economists said the special economic zones in the region will also benefit hugely from the tunnel in terms of better forward and backward linkages.
“While these mega infrastructures will take the country to a new trajectory of higher growth, the challenges remain: who will run them? The quality of human resources will have to be vastly improved by injecting more skills into it,” he said.
Atiur suggested restructuring of the education system to produce quality human resources which can take advantage of these infrastructures and make the economy more productive.
“The productivity gains must be at the heart of our drive for a new trajectory of growth supported by these mega infrastructures,” he said.
The planning minister said the ECNEC discussed the Karnaphuli tunnel on Tuesday.
Mentioning that the deadline for the completion of the tunnel work is December 2022, he said, “Now hopefully, it won't have to wait so long, it can be inaugurated much earlier.”
“But I can't say anything specifically. The authorities will fix it. It is a matter of great joy for the government,” he added.
There is a common notion that no project is completed on time in Bangladesh, the minister said adding, “This is a big complaint. It has not happened in this project. It is ending before time.”
Project Director Harunur Rashid said Covid-19 pandemic hampered the construction work earlier.
After lockdown, the construction work is now continuing regularly, he added.
Presently, more than 75 percent work has already been completed, he mentioned.
China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and China Road and Bridge Engineering Company (CRBC) are building the tunnel at a cost of Tk 10,374.42 crore, to turn Chattogram into “One City Two Towns” following the model of Shanghai city in China.
Of this, the government of Bangladesh has financed Tk 4,461.23 crore. Besides, the Chinese government is financing Tk 5,913.19 crore.
The total length of the proposed tunnel will be around 9.092km, including the 3.5km of tunnel under the Karnaphuli River.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping laid the foundation stone on October 14, 2016.
The proposed multi-lane tunnel will connect Chattogram city with the other side of the Karnaphuli River.
It will also make connections between the proposed Asian Highway and the Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar Highway aiming to make regional connectivity easier.
The much-awaited 3.5km tunnel will also reduce the distance between Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar by roadway, apart from easing the heavy port-city-bound traffic from Dhaka.
The tunnel will greatly improve the development of the regional economy in Bangladesh as well as play an important role in interconnectivity between Bangladesh and its neighbouring countries.