When all major infrastructure projects are facing delays and cost escalation, the venture to build three new bridges on the Shitalakkhya, Meghna and Gumti rivers is making good progress.
All of them are expected to be completed by the December 2018 deadline, and setting an example, will cost less than what was estimated in the development project proforma (DPP).
Under the project, the existing Kanchpur, Meghna and Meghna-Gumti bridges would also be refurbished, officials of the road transport and bridges ministry said.
The four-lane bridges being built parallel to the old ones would cut short the travel time between Dhaka and Chittagong. The Dhaka-Chittagong highway was expanded into four-lanes last year.
After feasibility study, the cost of the project was estimated at Tk 8,487 crore, of which Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) was supposed to provide Tk 6,430 crore.
Before signing deals with four Japanese firms in November 2015, the total cost came down to Tk 7,677 crore due to strong negotiations by the project officials.
"We negotiated item to item and had been able to reduce the costs of many items," Road Transport and Bridges Division Secretary MAN Siddique told The Daily Star.
Project officials said the cost would further decrease as the consultancy fee (Tk 510 crore) and Custom Duty VAT (Tk 1,200 crore) were set to reduce.
The four contractors are Obayshi Corporation, Shimizu Corporation, JFE Engineer Corporation, and IHI Infra Systems Company Ltd.
As per the contract, the Japanese firms started working in January 2016 to build the new bridges. Despite a hiccup after last year's Holey Artisan attack, all foundation work, including piling of the three bridges were almost done.
"Piling work will be completed by October," said Project Director Saidul Haq, also the additional chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department.
He said the Japanese companies were producing steel girders at their factories in Vietnam and Myanmar. "They will start bringing the girders from October."
The length of the second Kanchpur bridge is 397 meters while the length of second Meghna bridge is 930 meters and second Meghna-Gumti bridge 1,410 meters.
This correspondent visited the sites last week and saw Japanese and local workers doing the pilings and other work in the rain. A good number of police and Ansar personnel were seen deployed to ensure round-the-clock security.
MAN Siddique said to complete the new bridges by next year the Japanese firms demanded two things, ensuring fund flow and security of the workers. "We assured them both and the firms are working extra hours to complete the project even before the deadline."
About 90 percent of the country's export-imports are done through the Chittagong Port. A majority of the goods are transported using the highway.
The highway had been widened onwards but the three bridges had become bottlenecks, often causing chaos on the country's economic lifeline.
Two underpasses and an overpass are being built on the eastern side of the Kanchpur bridge for smooth flow of traffic from all directions --Dhaka, Chittagong and Narsingdi (Sylhet).
The Japanese firms would start restoring the old bridges after completing the new bridges.
"The old bridges will be ready by the end of 2019, meaning traffic movement on the vital highway will be faster," Project Director Saidul Haq said.