Karnaphuli tunnel may again incur time and cost overruns
Constructing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the Karnaphuli river in Chattogram is set to turn costlier apparently for poor feasibility studies as the need for new components have arisen alongside adjustments to the rise in the price of the US dollar.
Though the tunnel was scheduled to be partially opened this month, Bridges Division is planning to seek a one-year extension for incorporating the additional components, according to the planning ministry's documents.
An additional Tk 315 crore will be sought, raising the overall cost to Tk 10,690 crore, while the tunnel project is expected to be complete by December 2023, read the documents.
This is the second time the project plan is being revised. It may be proposed at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) on January 17.
Of the additional cost, around Tk 25 crore will be required for new components of the toll plaza and Tk 109 crore for the service area.
A project evaluation committee of the planning ministry has asked the tunnel project officials to verify the financial analysis regarding the cost overrun, including whether it was as per rates provided by Public Works Department.
Security and traffic management had not been taken into account at the start of the project, Project Director Harun-or-Rashid told The Daily Star yesterday.
"Now these issues have been incorporated and that's why the duration and cost of the project were revised," he said.
Payments for the project have become costlier due to the high price of the dollar, he added.
When the project was undertaken in 2015, each dollar was around Tk 85 but now it is Tk 106, he said.
"The roads are complete for vehicle movement. Now the most important part of the tunnel, electro-mechanical work, is going on. The overall progress of the construction now stands at 95 per cent," he claimed.
However, the planning ministry documents show that the project's physical progress is at around 87 per cent.
Whether big infrastructure projects are delivering proper economic and financial benefits have always been a major concern, said Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
The lack of a proper feasibility study is a major reason for such delays and cost overruns. It remains to be seen whether the studies take the economic and financial benefits into consideration, he said.
"For this reason, the country's economy, especially the private sector, would not get the proper benefits timely," he added.
The project was supposed to be completed two years ago, meaning the country has missed its economic and financial returns, he said.
Like this, most major projects in the country are not completed on time, he said.
The Ecnec approved the multi-lane road tunnel project in November 2015 at a cost of Tk 8,446.64 crore. The project was set to be complete by December 2021.
Afterwards the project was revised, with the cost increasing to Tk 10,374.42 crore and completion deadline extended to December 2022.
Earlier, in November in the last year, the prime minister's former Principal Secretary Ahmad Kaikaus visited the tunnel area and said it will be partially opened to traffic by the end of January 2023."
China Communication Construction Company deployed more than 800 workers to construct the tunnel, which connects the port city on the north end with Anwara upazila on the south.
At a depth of 18 to 31 metres under the Karnaphuli, the length of the main tunnel is 3.32km.
The length of each of its two tubes, having four lanes, is 2.45km. There will be a 5.35km connecting road at the western and eastern ends of the main tunnel and a 727m flyover at the Anwara end.
It will be used as an alternative route to Cox's Bazar, Teknaf and Matarbari and northern Chattogram, and play an important role in improving the Asian Highway Network, strengthening connectivity between Bangladesh and neighbouring countries.