Defective design and specifications, a lack of planning and weak management by contractors have slowed the Gazipur-Airport Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, said the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the planning ministry.
Launched in 2012, the BRT project was supposed to end in 2016. However, after adding three and half years to the project's initial implementation period, only one-fourth of the project has been completed.
Alongside extending the project's time limit, its cost has been increased from Tk2,039.84 crore to Tk4,268.32 crore – more than double its initial cost.
The IMED said the project was initially prepared based on a poor feasibility study report and there were some defects in its detailed design. These caused repeated changes to the design, additions and eliminations of components during implementation, and the project's size and shape.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) financed and managed the feasibility study and the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) prepared the detailed design for The Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport Project (BRT Gazipur-Airport).
Once completed, the BRT would allow commuters to travel from Gazipur to the airport in 20 minutes. It would be able to carry around 20,000 passengers per hour.
The IMED recently checked the progress of the project through two non-governmental consultancy firms and sent the report to the project implementing agency – the RHD under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges.
According to the report, the initial plan to build 2.8 kilometres of flyovers was extended to 5.07 kilometres after the project was revised. Four flyovers will have six lanes instead of four lanes.
Additionally, some problems were identified in the design of the flyover in Gazipur Chowrasta.
The report also said initially there were plans to construct 3.5 kilometres of elevated road, but it was later increased to 4.5 kilometres.
Initially the plan did not include a footpath and separate lanes for slower vehicles on both sides of the highway. These were also added later.
In addition to that, an underpass worth Tk420 crore in the airport area was added to the plan too, but no contractor has been appointed for it yet.
When contacted, Chief Engineer of RHD Quazi Shahriar Hossain said some additional demands arose while implementing the project, which caused some additions to and eliminations from the plan, which was normal. He did not agree to label these as defects in design.
The China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd (CGGC), one of the contractors of the project, finished 42.52 percent of the work package it undertook. The time limit for completing the package was extended once, but the contractor has sought 480 more days to finish it.
Another contractor the Jiangsu Provincial Transportation and Group Co Ltd (JTEG) has completed only 29 percent of its work at the end of the time limit and sought more time.
The IMED said the CGGC agreed to finish the package for a cost 6.52 percent lower and the JTEG for a cost 27.39 percent lower than the estimated costs.
The IMED recommended the project implementers take punitive action against the two companies.
What the people concerned said
Director of the project Engineer Chandan Kumar Basak said it took five years to complete the process of calling tenders, preparing detailed design and signing contracts with construction companies before starting work at the field level in 2018.
The project implementers have to fight through the huge piles of garbage beside the roads, parked vehicles and underground gas lines.
Chandan also said the firm appointed by the ADB conducted the feasibility study without taking the issues under the ground into consideration. So, the problems of implementing the project in reality were not perceived sooner.
Dr Shamsul Hoque, a professor at the Bangladesh University and Engineering and Technology's Civil Engineering Department, said the cost of the BRT in Bangladesh is at least 10 times higher than for a BRT of the global standard.
Increasing the time limit of the project will result in increasing the cost, which might render it unprofitable, feared Dr Shamsul.
When contacted, the officials at the ADB's Dhaka office refused to comment on the matter.
Planning Minister MA Mannan told the Business Standard that in the past, implementation of almost all the development projects were hampered because of work starting without a feasibility study having been conducted. Considering the matter, the government has made feasibility studies mandatory before big projects are started.
"The agencies concerned add a substandard feasibility study to a project just to meet the requirement. The BRT project is not an exception in this regard," the planning minister opined.
MA Mannan also said the projects are hampered because the consultants appointed for the feasibility study do not do anything. The government has noticed this, but making improvements in this regard is very difficult.
Despite all this, the government is working and the persons responsible for this will be punished if they are identified, the minister added.
What lies ahead for the BRT project?
The BRT can transport 20,000 passengers from Gazipur to the airport, per hour, but where will the passengers go from there?
Specialists fear that these people will face severe traffic congestion once they arrive at the airport.
Dr Shamsul said, "It is illogical to construct a BRT from the entry point of one city to that of another city. There is no alternative to stretching the BRT to Keraniganj to reap benefits from it."
However, he thinks that extending the BRT will be impossible because of the flyovers in different areas and the ongoing Metro Rail project.
He further suspected that the BRT will increase the suffering of the residents of Dhaka, instead of alleviate it.
The IMED said finishing the BRT would improve the lives of around 10 lakh people, but currently the long running time of the project is making the area dusty. People are also taking risks to cross the streets in the area.
The authorities concerned have sought a time extension to 2022 to finish the project, so the local people will have to suffer for at least two more years.