The government yesterday inked a Tk 83 crore deal with a joint venture for preparing a detailed design of the Dhaka-Chittagong expressway, nearly a decade after the initiative was taken for faster communications between the capital and the port city.
The deal is a first major step toward building a six-lane freeway that will benefit the economy greatly, as 90 percent of the country's export-import takes place through the existing two-lane highway.
However, the country will have to wait until 2023 for the completion of the expressway. And that, too, depends on the private sector coming forward with finance as the government decided to build it under Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, said communications ministry officials.
Under the deal, the consulting firm will conduct a feasibility study and prepare the design in three years and select the most viable alignment, which can be elevated over the existing Dhaka-Chittagong highway or ad-grade (on the ground) or both.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding the study and the design, which will take three years to complete.
Halfway through the designing, the joint venture firm will recommend a PPP investor for the mega project.
Mofizul Islam Raj Khan, chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department (RHD), and Gavin Harold Strid, representative of the venture, signed the agreement at the RHD office at Tejgaon in the capital.
Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation International of Australia, Oriental Consultants of Japan, Castalia Ltd of New Zealand and ACE Consultants of Bangladesh are the firms in the joint venture.
The first initiative to build a road with access control was taken in 2004, considering the fast growing number of traffic on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, known as the economic lifeline of the country.
A detailed study between 2006 and 2008, which was also funded by the ADB, suggested building a four-lane expressway in the first phase and then expanding it to six lanes in the second phase.
It was then estimated that an elevated expressway would cost $6.1 billion, but if built at ground level, it would cost $2.2 billion.
In 2009, a year after the study was completed, a cabinet committee decided in principle to implement the project under PPP. The following year, the communications ministry floated a tender for construction of the expressway, but no one showed any interest. There has been no known progress in this regard since.
The daily average traffic on the highway was about 20,000 in 2004. It has now almost doubled and is likely to cross 70,000 when the expressway is expected to open in 2023, RHD officials said.
According to a study by the ADB, almost 90 percent of the country's total imports and exports are transported through the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
Sixty percent of the vehicles plying the highway carry goods. It takes around 10 hours and sometimes more to cross the 250-kilometre distance.
The long, strenuous journey means a huge waste of fuel as well as working hours. Besides, shipments of goods are often delayed due to long queues of vehicles on the highway.