Be the route Dhaka Airport-Gazipur, Dhaka Airport-Jatrabari or Dhaka Airport-Ashulia, the Bangladesh Bridge Authority promised road trips within only 20-30 minutes by 2022, which now takes a couple of hours.
With elevated expressways, the plan was to bypass Dhaka vertically, with the rapid bus service transporting people to their destinations and thus beating the perennial traffic jams by dedicated, disciplined, and faster bus lanes.
But reality bites. The Bus Rapid Transit-3, Dhaka Elevated Expressway and Dhaka-Ashulia Elevated Expressway projects face uncertainty thanks to unsynchronized plans, picking less efficient contractors and project undertaking without specific funding assurances.
With a rapidly growing population and an increasing number of cars in Dhaka, the unfinished works now cause a crippling of traffic, get in the way of other projects, or leave the desired project output in a state of uncertainty.
For instance, the country's first Dhaka Elevated Expressway, connecting Dhaka Airport with Jatrabari on Dhaka-Chattogram Highway now is in contradiction with a railway project as the expressway pillars will be on the Dhaka-Tongi third and fourth dual gauge rail lines.
"We told them [expressway project authority] repeatedly that we cannot spare them land from Malibagh to Kamalapur," said Afzalur Rahman, the project director of the dual gauge rail-road construction.
"In fact, we are not in a position for a compromise as our work is going on in full swing," he told The Business Standard.
However, AHMS Akter, project director of Dhaka Elevated Expressway, said, "The problem will not be a serious issue. We will resolve it by discussing with the rail authority and construction will be completed on time."
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the construction of a 46.93km expressway in 2011. The expressway is being constructed in three phases – airport to Banani in the first phase, Banani to Moghbazar in the second phase and Moghbazar to Jatrabari in the third phase.
The project deadline has been extended until 2022, though the work was supposed to have been completed in 2016.
The physical progress in the first phase is around 62% while the second phase Banani to Moghbazar has completed around 14% of the work. Work in the third phase – Moghbazar to Jatrabari – is yet to begin.
The third phase of the expressway has got entangled with the railway project over the land at the eastern side of Kamalapur Railway Station.
With a total Tk8,940 crore, Ital-Thai is implementing the work under the "First Dhaka Elevated Expressway Company". The company will be collecting tolls on the expressway for 25 years to draw its investments.
Railway project director Afzalur Rahman said the two projects – rail line and expressway – were taken up almost at the same time.
The rail-road constructions were approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in November 2012 – before the expressway project had the construction deal in place.
Stalled BRT project cripples traffic flow on Airport-Gazipur road
The 20.5 km Bus Rapid Transit-3 (BRT) project connecting the airport with Gazipur was undertaken in 2012 with a four-year deadline.
China Gezhouba Company Limited got the construction work at the end of 2017. The Chinese contractor was tasked with the construction at Tk935 crore – at 24% less than the original project cost of Tk1,225 crore.
The Bangladesh Bridge Authority got the construction of a 4.5 km elevated stretch of the BRT from Tongi to the airport.
The overall project progress is 55%, while the elevated part has so far attained 54% in terms of physical progress.
Project officials said the Chinese contractor is now procrastinating since it took up the work at a cheaper rate than the original project cost as allegations also run rife against the project over a use of substandard construction materials.
On 14 March, six workers got injured when a girder collapsed on them at the construction site adjacent to the airport. There was another reported accident on 13 March too.
A recent visit to the project site revealed hundreds of slabs being kept right on the road from the airport to Tongi. The locals said the construction materials were left on the road for more than one year, making it almost offline to traffic.
At Tongi bridge area, the construction site has shrunk the road to only one lane on both sides.
Md Liaqat Ali, project director and superintendent engineer at the elevated part of the BRT, said, "Apart from the fund crisis, the contractor has been somewhat negligent in finishing the work promptly."
He blamed heavy traffic besides the resource shortage. "The utility lines beneath the ground are spread like a net, and the utility providers are not cooperating in finishing the work fast."
The project, including the Bridge Authority part, was initially estimated at Tk2,040 crore. But the cost has now shot up to Tk4,268 crore.
Dhaka-Ashulia project yet to begin
The government-to-government Dhaka-Ashulia Expressway project was approved by the Ecnec in 2017. The 26 km expressway – an extension of the Dhaka Elevated Expressway – will connect Chandra at the North Bengal Highway to Dhaka Airport.
The estimated project cost is Tk6,901 crore. Of the total, China Exim Bank will provide finance to the tune of Tk10,950 crore while the government will provide the rest of the funds.
The Bridges Division signed the construction deal with China Construction Firm (CMC) in 2017. Under the terms of the deal, CMC will manage the loan from China Exim Bank.
Three years into the deal signing, Exim Bank approved the loan in 2020. But since the project is on a government-to-government basis, Bangladesh's Economic Relations Division will have to sign a separate agreement with the Chinese bank.
Quazi Ferdous, chief engineer of the Bridge Authority, said, "We have prepared the draft of the agreement and the deal will be signed soon."
"Why does the feasibility study fail to prevent the projects from getting into a tangle," wondered Dr Shamsul Haque, a prominent transport expert and professor at the civil engineering department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
"How does the Planning Commission approve two projects on the same piece of land? Unless there is a proper feasibility study, as long as the Planning Commission does not analyse the projects in a coordinated manner, the situation will remain the same," he stated.
Shamsul Haque believes that without accountability and punishment, the situation will not improve.
"Appointing a contractor at a higher or lower rate is inappropriate. There is a law that stipulates that no contractor can be awarded any project at 15% more or less than the actual cost," he commented about the Chinese contractor that was given the BRT work.