Many of the projects Finance Minister AMA Muhith mentioned in his budget speech yesterday for the country's infrastructure development were years-old and should have been completed by now.
Inefficiency of the ministries concerned delayed implementation of those projects and escalated their costs. However, some projects would be completed in several years, benefiting the transportation and business.
The budget proposed increasing allocation for the communications infrastructure from Tk 14,226 crore to Tk 23,136 crore but did not have any new or specific long-term mass transport proposals for improving ever-deteriorating traffic situation.
Although Muhith spoke of all-out efforts to develop the transport sector and improve road safety, he said nothing about how the daunting task could be done.
Of the old projects, expansion of the narrow Dhaka-Chittagong Highway into double-carriageway is the vital one, work of which began in 2010 and was supposed to be completed last year. The Tk 3,190-crore project got extension twice and is expected to be finished in a year now.
Expanding the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway into a four-lane one should have been completed by June last year. The project, already extended by one year, is halfway now and set to get another one-year extension.
As of 2012, Muhith claimed expansion of the highways was going on in full swing.
He was happy to name some completed flyovers, Hatirjheel project and upgrading Nabinagar-DEPZ-Chandra Road into four lanes that he said had helped mitigate traffic congestion. He however did not mention the delay in construction of the Padma Bridge, Dhaka Elevated Expressway, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Metro Rail projects.
The Tk 8,900-crore elevated expressway project is clogged in utility lines shifting, alignment complexity, land acquisition and rehabilitation even after inauguration of the work in 2012 when the cost was Tk 7,600 crore.
The first part of 20km BRT from Airport to Joydebpur is expected to begin next year while its remaining part from Airport to Sadarghat is undergoing feasibility study.
Although the 20.1km metro rail from Uttara Third Phase to Motijheel seems right on track, its construction would begin in 2016 with a completion target by 2020. Of the total Tk 21,985 crore of the metro rail cost, Japan is providing Tk 16,595 crore as soft loan, while the Bangladesh government would bear the rest.
A tunnel connecting Jahangir Gate with Rokeya Sarani would be useful, but the plan was scrapped last year after a feasibility study spending Tk 10 crore.
A tunnel under the Karnaphuli river in Chittagong would hugely benefit traffic movement and trade, but it has been shelved for a year. A Chinese firm did feasibility studies and proposed for construction. A Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed in this regard during the prime minister's visit to China.
The Padma Bridge that will have both road and railway links has finally been in shape with the government going to ink a deal with a Chinese firm after a delay of four years due to corruption charges.
Like the previous years, Muhith put top priority to it as it will create a direct linkage between 19 southwestern districts with the capital, reducing journey hours and enhancing trade. The minister expressed the hope that construction of the bridge would be completed by 2018.
Upgrading the major highways into four-lane ones and construction of circular road-rail network around the capital have been talked about for years.
Terming Muhith's infrastructure plan 'old wine in new bottle', urban planner Khandker Neaz Rahman cast doubts if metro rail, elevated expressway and BRT would help ease traffic movement, saying their cost would go up further for many reasons including delay in implementation.
Prof Shamsul Hoque of Buet said he was very disappointed at not seeing anything specific about the mass transport sector and its allocation.
“I have found nothing about strategic use of existing roads to increase their operational capacity and construction of ring roads to ease traffic movement,” he added.
Both of them said the budget should outline execution of the 20-year Strategic Transport Plan (STP), which was a complete solution to the city's transport system.