The government is going to set up another 21 weighbridges on major highways to check overloading as the practice is causing damage to roads and bridges.
A project proposal to this end is likely to be placed before today’s Ecnec meeting for approval, Nazrul Islam, secretary to Road Transport and Highway Division, said yesterday.
As per the plan, the authorities will build the excel load control centres for Tk 1,630.28 crore at the entrance points on the highways within June 2022.
The aim is to protect the roads from overloading. Talking to The Daily Star, a prominent transport expert, however, said the initiative might not be effective unless the government follows the international standards of weight limit and stops giving fitness clearance to illegally modified vehicles.
There are already three permanent axle load control centres at Sitakunda in Chattogram, Meghna Toll Plaza in Cumilla and Rustampur in Manikganj.
The authorities for the first-time had imposed fines for overloading in August, 2016. But on the very day, transport owners and workers damaged the weighbridges in Manikganj and Chattogram. The government was then forced to increase the maximum weight limit of goods-laden vehicles in January last year.
At present, two-axle vehicles (six wheels) can carry maximum 22 tonnes, three-axle vehicles (10 wheels) maximum 30 tonnes and four-axle (14 wheels) maximum 40 tonnes all over the country. As per the global standards, the limits are 15.5, 22 and 32 tonnes respectively.
Around 25 percent of the country’s roads, under the Road and Highways Department, are in “poor, bad or very bad” shape, according to an RHD survey on 17,452km of roads in March.
There are 21,576kms of national and regional highways and district roads under the department.
Overloading, a common practice in the country, is considered to be a major reason behind early damages to roads and bridges, said Abul Kalam Azad, RHD superintendent engineer (maintenance circle).
“This also increases maintenance cost of roads and bridges,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
AK Mohammad Fazlul Karim, a superintendent engineer of RHD’s road design and safety circle, said carrying goods 40 percent more than the approved limit could reduce the lifespan of a road by 5 years.
Speaking how overloading causes damage to roads, he talked about the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.
The four-lane highway, touted as the economic lifeline of the country, was formally opened in July 2016.
“We designed the Dhaka-Chattogram highway with 98 million standard axel load capacity for 10 years, but the limit crossed within three years,” he said.
Two of the three existing weighbridges are situated at two points of the road, which is the country’s busiest highway.
Secretary Nazrul Islam said, “We are going to set up the weighbridges to check overloading to save our roads and bridges.”
Last year, the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry sent the proposal to the planning ministry, Later, an inter-ministerial committee formed to examine the feasibility gave go-ahead to the project following field visits, road transport and bridges ministry sources said.
The weighbridges will be set up at Jagadishpur in Habiganj, Mynamati in Cumilla, Deepraj in Bagerhat, Koilabari in Chapainawabganj, Keranihat in Chattogram, Tura in Kurigram, Bhajanpur in Panchagarh, Hili in Dinajpur, Shimultala in Sherpur, Gobrakura in Mymensingh, Naobadkathi in Satkhira, Kazirbazar in Nilphamari, Baro Ichapur in Tangail, Belonia in Feni, Darshana in Chuadanga, Bandar Connectivity Road in Chattogram, Masterbari in Gazipur, Rohitpur in Munshiganj, Bhanga in Faridpur, Sitakunda in Chattogram and Sutarkandi in Sylhet.
QUESTION OVER EFFECTIVENESS
Prominent transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque yesterday said the government has ignored the international standards while fixing weigh limits on highways and it has resulted in early damages to roads.
“So the government cannot shrug off the responsibility,” he said.
He said the existing three weighing machines appear to be ineffective in saving the roads due to the “flawed limits”.
He also said many truck and lorry owners illegally modify their vehicles to carry goods beyond the permissible level, but the authorities give them fitness certificates in exchange for bribes.
“In this situation, the new weighbridges might not give you the expected results,” Prof Shamsul, also a former director of Buet’s Accident Research Centre, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Asked, Secretary Nazrul Islam said the maximum weigh limit was increased in a “special situation”. He said vehicles carrying even 40 tonnes of goods had operated on roads, but now the highest limit is 22 tonnes.
“But it is not for an infinitive period. We will maintain the international standards once the new weighbridges are established. We will also bring down the maximum limits to 16 tonnes for the existing ones,” he added.