The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) is going to conduct a survey for assessing necessary infrastructure that would be required to start collecting tolls on the four-lane highways across the country.
Initially, the survey would be conducted on Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Mymensingh highways, as an initial step to implement the prime minister’s directives in this regard.
“We have approved a RHD proposal for conducting necessary survey on how to collect toll from vehicles on the two highways,” Mohammed Shafiqul Karim, joint secretary (toll and axle) at the Road Transport and Highways Division, told The Daily Star yesterday.
RHD sent the proposal on December 30 last year and the division yesterday sent a letter to the department seeking opinion from it after surveying the two highways, another official said.
PM Sheikh Hasina during an Ecnec meeting on September 3 last year instructed the authorities concerned to collect tolls from long-haul vehicles on the national highways.
After the meeting, Planning Minister MA Mannan told reporters that the toll money would be deposited in a bank account and spent on the maintenance and repair works of the roads.
Vehicles travelling short distances would not have to pay any amount, he said, adding the ministry would prepare a detailed guideline on it.
However, bus service operators and road-safety campaigners say the passengers will ultimately shoulder the burden as the transport companies would charge more from them once the decisions are implemented.
The government must keep the roads safe and ensure smooth journey before imposing tolls, they said on several occasions while talking to The Daily Star.
Under the Toll Policy-2014, the RHD is currently collecting tolls on the two-lane 50km Hatikumrul-Bonpara highway, 13.7km Chattogram Port Access Road, and 74km-long stretch of Dhaka-Sylhet highway between Jagadishpur and Sherpur.
The base toll is Tk 2 on each kilometre on important highways, Tk 1.5 on national highways, Tk 1 on regional highways and Tk 0.5 on district roads, according to the 2014 policy.
The RHD has 22,096km of national and regional highways and district roads. The Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Mymensingh highways are four-lane. Besides, construction of four-lane Dhaka-Tangail and Dhaka-Mawa highways is underway.
Following the PM’s directives, the Road Transport and Highways Division on September 29 last year directed the RHD to take action in this regard.
Parveen Sultana, executive engineer (routine maintenance division) at RHD, said they were planning to collect tolls on Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Mymensingh.
But toll collection is not possible in the current condition of highways and an assessment of necessary infrastructure would be required for the proper functioning of toll collection, she told this newspaper yesterday.
Replying to another question, she said, “We may have to hire consultants for conducting such large-scale surveys. We will start our work upon receiving approval.”
Talking to The Daily Star in October last year, eminent transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque said the highways were “not suitable” for collecting tolls.
What the government says about repairing roads seems “irrational” before quality roads are constructed, he said.
There should be a two-tier system. Access to the one where tolls are collected would be controlled and there would be an alternative road for those who will not pay anything, he added.
“But our highways are not like that. Introducing tolls without having an alternative road is not rational,” he said.
Prof Shamsul, also former director of Accident Research Institute at Buet, pointed out that both legal and illegal and speedy and slow-moving vehicles were operated on the highways.
“Imposition of tolls would be irrational keeping the inconstancy.”
Overloaded vehicles and the poor quality of construction work are the main causes of the hefty maintenance costs, he said.
Shamsul said it is unethical to collect tolls from people while overloaded vehicles are allowed and the quality of roads is questionable.
About the money required for road maintenance, he said the authorities earn around Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 crore from vehicles’ registration, fitness certificate and other charges and tolls from bridges every year.
The money can easily be deposited in a single fund and be used for road maintenance, he added.