Thousands of Eid holidaymakers may suffer in traffic jam if the authorities fail to control vehicular movement at some key points of the highways.
Traffic either slows to a crawl or goes haywire at those points, leaving people trapped in tailbacks for hours during the Eid rush.
Narrow and worn-out roads, unplanned intersections, narrow bridges, illegal roadside markets and the authorities' inability to control so many vehicles are mainly to blame, say transport experts, bus operators and passengers.
Besides, thousands of unfit and overloaded vehicles are likely to hit the streets ahead of the festival. Many of them may break down right in the middle of the road, creating tailbacks.
This time, rain could make things even worse for an estimated 80 lakh holidaymakers who would travel to their home from the capital. The rush ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr is expected to begin on June 22, they said.
Those heading for southern districts in buses through the Paturia and Daulatdia ferry ghats are likely to get trapped in traffic snarl-ups for hours near the terminals. It's because hundreds of buses would race for spots in only 19 ferries, leading to traffic chaos.
Talking to The Daily Star on Thursday, transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque said “unplanned” intersections also hinder free movement of traffic on the highways. He said such intersections contribute a lot to traffic congestions.
"All our national highways have numerous intersections. Usually, vehicles get stuck for sometime at these intersections. But vehicles virtually come to a halt at those intersections during the Eid rush as traffic pressure increases manifold at that time.”
Even the expansion of highways to four lanes from two lanes would be of little help as the vehicles would have to stop abruptly at the intersections, he said.
Prof Shamsul, a former director of Accident Research Institute at Buet, also blamed toll plazas, where vehicles need to stop, for slowing down traffic on highways and stressed the need for digitalisation of toll collection.
Faruk Talukder Sohel, chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association,
said, "The structural flaws of the highways can't be fixed overnight. But proper and strict traffic management can ease the traffic situation significantly.”
Rikta Parveen, a homemaker who wants to spend this Eid in Khulna, is worried about her journey.
“Last year, my family members, especially the children, had a terrible experience while going home. We don't want any hassle this time,” she said.
These correspondents talked to a number of transport experts, road safety campaigners, bus operators, drivers and passengers, and tried to identify and describe the points on the five national highways where gridlocks might be created during this Eid.
[Our Tangail correspondent Mirza Shakil, Manikganj correspondent Jahangir Alam, Gazipur correspondent Abu Bakar Siddique Akand, Jhenidah correspondent Azibor Rahman, Mymensingh correspondent Aminul Islam, Brahmanbaria correspondent Mashuk Hridoy contributed to the report.]
City dwellers heading for the port city through the Dhaka-Chittagong highway might face traffic gridlock near the Kanchpur bridge.
Considered the economic lifeline of the country, the highway abruptly narrows down to just two lanes from eight lanes right before the bridge, creating a bottleneck.
Immediately after crossing the bridge, passengers may again get stuck in the intersection from where one highway leads to Chittagong and the other to Sylhet.
Vehicles from the Dhaka-Chittagong highway have to wait there to allow other vehicles from the Dhaka-Sylhet highway to travel towards the capital.
Traffic situation near the bridge often becomes messy during the Eid rush as almost all the vehicles try to overtake each other there, said Faruk Talukder Sohel, chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association.
The homegoers may face a similar situation within 20 kilometres of the bridge. Vehicles move at a snail's pace near the two-lane Meghna bridge during the Eid when a large number of buses and trucks hit the highway.
Chittagong is some 265km away from Dhaka and the travel time should be around four hours. But in reality, it often takes 15 to 16 hours to cross the distance during Eid holidays, mainly because of the traffic congestion at these two points and accidents involving overloaded vehicles at several other points of the highway.
Holidaymakers leaving for Sylhet from the capital can find themselves in deep trouble from the beginning of their journey. Tailbacks and rundown roads dug for construction work may make the trip extremely awful, say transport operators.
The travellers would have bumpy rides from Jatrabari intersection to Kutubkhali area as the long stretch of the road is riddled with potholes.
Then comes the Kanchpur bridge where they may face a bottleneck.
Their sufferings would increase after they cross the bridge and reach Gawsia market in Narayanganj's Bhulta.
Construction of a four-lane flyover has been going on there over the last two years. Due to the construction work, the stretch of the highway between Bhulta and Gawsia market has become narrow and it takes three to four hours to cross that distance alone, said transport operators and passengers.
Traffic congestion at this point has become a regular phenomenon and it would intensify when the Eid rush begins. Sometimes buses stop to take and drop passengers there and if it goes on that time, the situation would worsen, they said, adding, Eid holidaymakers suffered a lot at that place last year.
They may face another bottleneck on the Shahbajpur bridge in Brahmanbaria's Sarail. After several cracks developed on the bridge, a bailey bridge was constructed over the Titas river there. Vehicles move slowly on that bridge as it starts to shake whenever a heavy truck crosses it.
Despite being one of the major highways in the country, holidaymakers suffer the most on this road every year, say transport operators.
This time they may have to remain stuck on this highway longer than yesteryears due to the ongoing development work on Joydevpur Chandra-Tangail-Elenga road that connects 16 districts.
Soon after leaving Dhaka, homegoers are likely to face bottlenecks on Gazipur-Chandra and Nabinagar-Chandra roads even though the roads were expanded recently. Due to industrialisation in the area, stationary vehicles keep the outer lanes occupied at different points.
The Chandra intersection also sees severe traffic congestion every year during the holidays. However, the authorities recently constructed an additional brick soling road from Chandra intersection to Kaliakoir High-Tech Park gate for buses, reports our Gazipur correspondent.
Vehicles on the 50-kilometre stretch from Gorai in Mirzapur upazila to Elenga in Kalihati upazila will be forced to slow down due to potholes, reports our Tangail correspondent. However, some of the potholes are being repaired.
The condition of the 7km from Rabna to Elenga is in a bad shape creating bottlenecks. The authorities said the road would be repaired before the Eid.
The works for upgrading the two-lane Dhaka-Tangail highway into a four-lane one are going on.
Lutfar Rahman Lalju, general secretary of bus-minibus workers union in Tangail, said the works should be suspended for at least seven days before and after the Eid and trucks shouldn't be allowed on the road to ease some pressure.
Mahbub Alam, superintendent of police in Tangail, said the four-lane project director was requested to keep the works suspended for seven days before Eid.
Maznu Miah, a driver of Nirala Paribahan in Tangail, said law enforcers should be alert at all times to prevent traffic chaos.
Khalilur Rahman Patwary, officer-in-charge of Gorai Highway Police Station, blamed the level crossing at Dherua in Mirzapur for tailbacks on the highway.
At least 12 trains go through the road about 24 times a day, creating tailbacks of hundreds of vehicles on the both sides.
Noor-e-Alam, executive engineer of Roads and Highways Department in Tangail, said fixing the potholes on the highway was going on while measures were being taken to let vehicles use all four lanes wherever possible.
Vehicles using 138 routes in 26 districts including 16 northern and five south western districts use this highway. Every day, around 12,000 vehicles use this highway. But during the Eid, the number increases to 30,000 to 40,000, according to highway police.
Trips to southern districts will be distressing too.
Amin Bazar and Savar Bazar will be the major bottlenecks for those travelling to the southern districts. Vehicles will again slow down at Nabinagar intersection.
Then there will be the long delays at ferry terminals that remain the main cause of distress for holidaymakers using this route.
Vehicles using the Paturia-Daulatdia ferry terminal may have to wait for the ferries for hours due to poor management in ferry services.
Drivers fear that the people headed to 17 south-western districts would suffer a lot if there is a disruption of ferry services like last year, when several landing stations at Paturia ferry ghat in Manikganj were eroded by strong current in the Padma river.
"The ferry authorities must ensure proper management so that no bus can break rules. There will be delays as it is not possible for 14 to 15 ferries to carry thousands of vehicles," said a driver of Eagle Paribahan.
Shafiqul Islam, manager (commerce) of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), said 19 ferries and 33 launches would be in operation during the Eid.
Besides, goods-laden trucks will not be allowed to cross the river during three days before and after the Eid, he said.
Shafiqul, however, admitted that four landing stations at Daulatdia were vulnerable.
"Big ferries are already having difficulties at these landing stations," he added.
Faruk Talukder Sohel pointed out that besides the lack of landing stations and ferries, there was a syndicate at the terminal that allows trucks to cross the river during the Eid in exchange of money.
The authorities need to stop this, he added.
Najmus Sadat, deputy commissioner of Manikganj, said they would be alert and take action if they found any such syndicate.
Azmal Hossain, deputy general manager of BIWTC, said usually 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles cross the Padma using the ferry ghat every day and the number would multiply during the Eid.
Handling the traffic will be a big challenge, he said.
After going across the Padma, the holidaymakers heading to Jessore and Khulna will have to take a detour through Jhenidah as an iron bridge at Shimakhali Bazar in Shalikha of Magura on Jessore-Dhaka collapsed five months ago.
The construction of another bridge is yet to be completed.
Shamsul Islam, the driver of a bus, said it takes around an hour longer to go to Jessore from Magura.
People of southern districts also use the Dhaka-Mawa highway. Gridlocks may occur in the absence of proper management of ferry and launch services at Shimulia and Kathalbari ghats.
Bad weather may also contribute to the tailbacks, a staff of the ghat said.
The main issue on the highway lies on a 12-km stretch from Tongi bridge to Joydevpur Chourasta.
The four-lane highway from Dhaka reduces to a two-lane one there. There were tailbacks in recent years.
Haphazard parking of vehicles and dumping of waste along the highway further narrow down the road, said Shahidullah Sadhu, general secretary of Mohakhali Bus Terminal Workers' Union.
Moreover, there are around 15 junctions on this 12-km road, interrupting the traffic flow, he added. Most of the Mymensingh-bound buses leave from Mohakhali.
"Auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and pedestrians go across the highway near these junctions all the time, forcing the long haul buses to move slowly," he said.
"If the situation remains unchanged, the traffic congestion will undoubtedly prevail," Shahidullah said.
SM Badrul Alam, assistant superintended of police (highway) of Gazipur Circle, said no goods-laden truck will be allowed to ply Dhaka-Tangail and Dhaka-Mymensingh highways seven days before Eid.
"Wreckers will be put in place at different points," he said.
Besides, several roadside bazaars, which eat up a large portion of the road space, further halt the traffic flow. The increased number of vehicles during holidays will only cause congestions, our Mymensingh correspondent reports.