While work on the excavation for the first tube of the Karnaphuli tunnel was delayed by the pandemic, faster efforts for the second tube have made up for the crucial lost time as its boring is expected to end this Friday – nearly two months ahead of schedule.
"We are done with 73% of the construction work for the tunnel," Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, project director of the Multilane Road Tunnel under the River Karnaphuli, told The Business Standard yesterday.
The excavation – considered the most important and time-consuming part of the construction process – started in December last year and was expected to be completed by December this year.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) yesterday decided to name the tunnel "Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel", Planning Minister Abdul Mannan said.
The tunnel, at a depth of 18-43 metres below the riverbed, will connect Anwara and Karnaphuli upazilas on the south bank of the Karnaphuli River with the port city.
The project was conceived to develop the Chattogram city on the "One City, Two Towns" model of Shanghai in China.
The tunnel will reduce the distance from Chattogram to Cox's Bazar by 40 kilometres, with vehicles plying it reaching speeds of 80km per hour.
Approved in 2015 at an estimated cost of Tk8,447 crore, the project was supposed to be completed by 2020.
Amid various complications, however, in 2018 the completion date was extended to December 2022.
The total cost of the revised project also rose to Tk10,374 crore.
To cover the cost, the Exim Bank of China is giving a hard loan – one secured by real property – of Tk5,913 crore at 2% interest rate, while the Bangladesh government is providing Tk4,461.23 crore.
China Communication Construction Company Ltd is working as the contractor for the project.
A progress report
The length of the main tunnel is 3.32km, with each tube measuring 2.45km at a diameter of 10.80 metres. Each tube will have two lanes, with connecting roads for the main tunnel and a 727-metre over-bridge.
The tunnel was promised by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a rally at Laldighi in Chattogram before the 2008 elections. When the Hasina-led Awami League came to power soon after, work on the tunnel began.
Construction began for the first-ever such tunnel near the Patenga Naval Academy and excavation for the first tube ended on 2 August last year.
The tunnel route will cut through the river near Navy College on one side and the Karnaphuli Fertiliser Company (Kafco) on the other, connecting the Karnaphuli-Anwara end.
According to engineers concerned, in 2012 the bridge authority, China Communication Construction, and Ovi Arup & Partners Hong Kong jointly conducted a technical and economic study for the construction of the tunnel.
Later, during the prime minister's visit to China in June 2014, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries on a government-to-government basis.
The Chinese government nominated China Communication Construction to build the tunnel and a commercial agreement was signed on 30 June of that year.
The construction of the economic zone, deep-sea port and power plant on the south bank of the Karnaphuli River and Cox's Bazar is in progress.
Once the tunnel is opened to the public, vehicles going to Cox's Bazar and the southern part of Chattogram, along with other parts of the country, will no longer have to enter the city.
Vehicles from the port city can also get on the tunnel on the City Outer Ring Road, thus decreasing traffic pressure on the city.
Construction of roads in the first tube has already started, while a flood gate at the Patenga end of the tunnel has also been built.
Construction on two more connecting roads and the over-bridges has also begun.
Filling work of the 5.35km connecting road till Chatri Chaumuhani Point on the Patia-Anwara-Banshkhali road is underway.
The filling of the 5.35 km connecting road up to Chatri Chaumuhani at the end of Anwara of the tunnel is underway. Besides, the construction work of the 727m over-bridge in the area adjacent to CUFL is nearing completion. Spans and girders have already been installed.
Meanwhile, work has also started on six lanes from the tunnel connection road to Shikalbaha Y-junction. As part of the road expansion, cutting of trees and filling of soil has started.
At a November 2015 meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC), the tunnel project titled "Construction of Multi Lane Road Tunnel Under the River Karnafuli" was approved.
The project was scheduled for June 2020 and administrative approval was given by the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges on December 29 of that year.
Three years after the approval of the project, the PM inaugurated the construction of the tunnel on February 24, 2019.
Although the project was approved in 2015, work started in December 2016