Despite the opening of Padma Bridge and Madhumati Bridge, the country will not be able to make the most of improved connectivity as the 129 km road linking Faridpur’s Bhanga to Jashore’s Benapole is still not ready for traffic. increase in vehicles.
A plan to upgrade the Bhanga-Benapole dual carriageway into a four-lane highway was drawn up long ago but has made little progress, mainly due to uncertainty over funding, officials said.
The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has prepared two separate Development Project Proposals (DPPs) – one for land acquisition and relocation of utility lines, while another for physical works – involving Tk 15,286 crore (89 BDT to $1) to expand the road.
But it is not possible to say when the projects will be approved and when work will begin as both proposals have to go through a long process to get the final green light.
Even if the projects are approved this year, the land acquisition will take until June 2025 while the main project until 2027, according to related documents.
In this situation, smooth road communication for the people of the southwestern region and vibrant cross-border connectivity remain a distant dream.
“We’re not used to doing anything with an overall plan. We don’t have the capacity either. It’s been exposed here again,” said transport expert Prof. Moazzem Hossain.
WHY IS THIS ROUTE IMPORTANT?
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the long-cherished Padma Bridge in June, creating a direct link between the capital and the southwestern region.
The country’s longest bridge has dramatically reduced travel time between the capital and the southwest. It is also a key part of Asia Highway 1, which is expected to boost Asia’s economic growth and improve the country’s position on the continent.
AH-1, connecting Meghalaya to West Bengal of India via Tamabil-Sylhet-Dhaka-Narail-Jashore, had two missing links: one is Padma Bridge and another Kalna Bridge, officially named Modhumoti Bridge, at Naril.
The Prime Minister will inaugurate the Modhumoti Bridge on Monday, meaning there will be no missing links left.
The government has already taken up two projects to upgrade the two-lane highways from Dhaka to Sylhet and Sylhet to Tamabil into four-lane highways.
The expansion of the Dhaka-Sylhet highway will start this year and the Sylhet-Tamabil highway early next year. On the other hand, the government has already turned the road from Dhaka to Bhanga into a highway.
But the road from Bhanga to Benapole via Jashore is a two-lane highway, with a ferry terminal at the Kalna point of the Madhumati River at Narail.
So most of the vehicles bound for Benapole, Jashore, Jhenaidah – even many heading for Satkhira – take the Bhanga-Faridpur-Magura route avoiding the ferry route while some vehicles use the ferry service.
With the opening of the Madhumati Bridge at Kalna Point, which will establish a direct road link between Bhanga and Benapole, there will be a major change in the movement of vehicles, including those for cross-border trade.
And most vehicles will use the Bhanga-Narail-Jashore-Benapole route, experts and RHD officials said.
According to an RHD official, the distance between Dhaka and Jashore via Gabtoli-Paturia-Daulatdia-Magura-Jashore is 218 km. It will be only 160 km via Jatrabari-Padma-Bridge Madhumati Bridge.
Professor Moazzem said that the feasibility study carried out for the Padma Bridge in 2003-2005 gave a clear picture of the possible changes in the road sector after the opening of the Padma Bridge.
“So the authorities should have made plans considering all these things,” he said.
The Madhumati Bridge is said to be the country’s first six-lane bridge.
“Can you imagine how weird it is that a six-lane bridge is connected to the two-lane road on both sides? The authorities should have opened a four-lane road with the bridge,” he told this correspondent on Thursday.
“But nothing is happening here in a planned way. Moreover, we also have a crisis of funds,” he added.
He said, however, that if the dual carriageway could be kept operational properly, it could cope with the growth in traffic for at best two to three years.
“But if the road cannot be expanded in two or three years, there will be a major problem,” he said.
Bangladesh signed a $4.5 billion line of credit agreement with India in October 2017, which is the third line of credit agreement between the two countries.
The extension of the Bhanga-Jashore-Benapole road is among the projects to be financed under the third line of credit, RHD officials said.
RHD in July 2019 submitted a PPD to the Road Transport and Highways Division for the acquisition of land and the relocation of utility lines as part of the preparations for the start of physical works.
But the Planning Commission asked RHD to redesign the DPP and when RHD resubmitted it to the division after the necessary changes, the division in February this year again asked for it to be redesigned.
RHD recently resubmitted the DPP, which stated that the cost of acquiring the land and moving the utility lines would be Tk 4,236.60 crore. The total amount will come from the government fund.
On the other hand, RHD in December 2020 placed a DPP for the main project. But the division in June 2021 asked RHD to recast it.
When the PPD was resubmitted, the division, in a meeting about two months ago, asked RHD to recast it and secure funding for the project before proceeding with it, official sources said.
The cost of the project would be Tk 11,050.04 crore, of which Tk 8,724.59 crore was expected to come from project aid.
Meanwhile, RHD, under a project funded by the Asian Development Bank, completed a feasibility study and detailed design of the project in December 2021, the sources said.
“We are ready to go ahead with the project but we have not gotten a clear commitment on the loan from India,” an RHD official said, wishing not to be named.
Contacted, RHD AKM Chief Engineer Manir Hossain Pathan said the project is supposed to be implemented with the LoC fund.
“But there are loan issues here,” he told the Daily Star on Thursday when asked about the reason for the delay.
However, he did not go into details.
An RHD official said the division has asked them to expedite the resubmission of the main DPP as the Madhumati Bridge will be open on Monday, and the RHD is preparing to do so shortly.