The construction work on the BRT Line-3 project – a 20.5-kilometre dedicated bus corridor between Dhaka Airport and Gazipur – resumed in mid-September without any visible improvement in safety measures despite multiple fatal accidents.
All activities of this project were suspended after a girder segment fell on a car in Dhaka's Uttara on 15 August, killing five people.
Shoaib Ullah, a senior official of a ready-made garment factory in the Salna area of Gazipur, regularly commutes to work by car from his residence in Uttara Sector-7.
"The road from Uttara to Gazipur intersection has become extremely risky due to gross mismanagement in the BRT project," he said.
"In many places, work on the flyover is underway while vehicles move along the main road below. Work is going on in the road without any kind of barricade. Sometimes pedestrians land in front of the car while crossing the bamboo-made road divider," he added.
Visiting the project area last week, The Business Standard (TBS) found a large pile of sand on the road near the airport and other construction materials left in various spots of the road from Uttara Sector 1 to Jasim Uddin Road roundabout.
A deep, large hole was found along the sidewalk on the road past the House Building area. Bamboo has been used as road dividers and fences in the construction area spanning from Tongi to Gazipur Chourasta. Many people were seen crossing the bamboo-made dividers amid the risk of accidents.
Obaidullah, who regularly commutes from Tongi to Banani on a motorcycle, said, "Multiple holes have been dug at different places on the road from Abdullahpur to the airport. Stones are scattered on the road, which is a death trap for motorbikes."
When asked, ASM Elias Shah, director of the BRT project, told TBS, "Work has been resumed by taking adequate measures to ensure safety and security for the mass people as well as the workers."
The project director, however, declined to specify the new safety measures.
Md Hadiuzzaman, a transportation expert and professor of civil engineering at Buet, told TBS, "It is unfortunate that safety measures have not improved even after the recent accident."
He said the authorities have failed to hold the contractor accountable for the loss of several lives in accidents in the past few years.
"All aspects of safety measures have been grossly neglected since the beginning of the BRT project. Without taking any action against such negligence, the authorities have rather rewarded the contractor by revising the cost upward and extending the tenure of the project step by step," Professor Hadiuzzaman observed.
He also noted that apart from suspending the contractor as per the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) law for indifference to safety, the prevailing laws of the country have provisions for maximum punishment.
Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Management (EPCM), the consultant for the BRT project, had already objected to the use of bamboo in road dividers and fences.
The recent half-yearly report of the organisation said, "Contractors ensured safety barricades with bamboo, which did not satisfy standards."
Fences have been installed with white-coloured tin sheets at a number of construction sites of the project following the recent accident. But the fences placed on both sides of Station Road were seen to be tilting.
Workers' safety neglected
Visiting a BRT construction site on the road in front of the Bata store in Tongi, TBS observed that workers are not abiding by safety measures.
A group of workers were seen wearing uniforms, but no one was wearing helmets or gloves.
When asked, a worker named Panchashord Sulaiman said they find it very difficult to work wearing a helmet and gloves in extreme heat.
A similar scenario was observed in the BRT construction site in front of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Gazipur.
During a visit to the spot – where excavation work is going on for the BRT project – on Wednesday, TBS found a man driving an excavator without wearing any protective clothing, such as safety shoes, hand gloves, helmet, and safety belt.
Progress of work
A development project with a Tk2,040 crore estimate in 2012 was hardly cheap – nearly Tk100 crore per kilometre, to operate BRT buses by 2016.
The launch dates of the BRT line got postponed time and again and cost estimates moved upward – at the latest count, around Tk4,268 crore with a 109% hike over the years. The work of the BRT Line-3 was expected to end in December this year.
But the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges recently proposed a plan to extend the tenure of the project up to December next year.
Thus, a four-year job will enter its 11th year because of myriad problems starting from feasibility study to project formulation to design to implementation.
Nonetheless, Dhaka BRT Company Managing Director Shafiqul Islam said that the work will be completed by March next and the BRT line will be opened for traffic three months later, even though the latest progress report of the project does not show any possibility of this happening.
The progress report of the road transport ministry published at the end of last month said only 65.80% of the construction work on the 20.5-km road had been completed, while work on the 10-lane Tongi Bridge made 70% progress.
Even though work on building the bus depot was completed, progress in the construction work on six flyovers was 85.58%, said the report.