It’s a classic case of how poor planning can increase the cost of a project and delay its implementation.
The upgradation of the 70-kilometre road from Joydevpur to Elenga in Tangail to a four-lane highway was due to be completed by March 2018 at a cost of Tk 2,788.45 crore.
But thanks to poor planning, the deadline has been extended till June this year with the project cost escalating to more than two times the initial amount.
The cost is set to go up again. In December last year, the authorities sought an additional Tk 621 crore and extension of the deadline till June 2022.
Meant to improve the capital’s link to 20 northern districts, the project has so far undergone three revisions, and the total cost has increased to Tk 5,593.15 crore.
If the fourth revision is endorsed, the project cost will be Tk 6,214.41 crore.
Previous revisions predominantly sought funds for additional land acquisition to incorporate slow-moving lanes and more structures, as work on the project advanced.
The 70km stretch is instrumental to Dhaka’s road networks with the northern region and its upgradation will ensure better connectivity.
The Roads and Highways Division (RHD) has been implementing this project, titled “SASEC Road Connectivity Project: Improvement of Joydevpur-Chandra-Tangail-Elenga Road to a 4-lane Highway”, since 2013.
It is RHD’s one of eight “mega projects” now under implementation.
A government report cites a lack of advanced planning in the development project proposal (DPP) for the 70km road. Had it been better planned in advance, the cost of land acquisition in particular and other structural and time-bound expenses would have been much less.
“It was specifically a failure to carry out feasibility study properly, preparing DPP without following feasibility study and non-identification of elements of the project [initially],” said an IMED assessment report in June 2018.
The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) report mentioned delay in land acquisition and utility shifting, non-implementation of environmental impact assessment, lack of planning in procuring goods, slow pace of construction work, and absence of measures to control overweight as other weaknesses of the project.
Md Ishaque, the project director, told this newspaper on January 26 that they would not be able to meet the previously revised deadline, June this year, as the contractors would not be able to complete most of the flyovers and separate lanes for slow-moving vehicles by this time.
Last month, the project authorities sent a special revision proposal to the road transport and bridges ministry to increase project costs by Tk 621 crore; it is now awaiting approval at the planning ministry, said project officials.
According to the IMED report, however, the project would require even more funds in the near future to construct more separate lanes by 2023 at various busy parts of the road to cope with the ever growing number of vehicles.
The IMED is a separate division under the planning ministry which evaluates all government development projects.
WHY IS THE PROJECT IMPORTANT?
The highway is a part of the Asian Highway network, the Saarc Highway Corridor, and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) road connectivity initiative.
As a part of these connectivity initiatives, the government has decided to turn the entire stretches from Dhaka to the Indian border areas in the northern districts into four-lane roads.
The work for upgradation of a 190km section from Elenga to Rangpur to a four-lane highway has already started and upgradation of Rangpur-Banglabandha and Rangpur-Burimari roads to four-lane is now under government consideration.
Upgradation of these roads will not only facilitate inter-district connectivity but also regional connectivity, especially with India, Nepal and Bhutan, project officials said.
According to the feasibility study of the Joydevpur-Elenga project, the number of vehicles on this highway everyday was 13,250 in 2011 and is projected to be 33,920 and 57,310 in 2025 and 2034 respectively.
In March 2013, the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project at a cost of Tk 2,788 crore.
The Asian Development Bank, the OPEC Fund for International Development, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development made commitments to provide Tk 1,843 crore of the total cost.
The cost had to be revised within 10 months as the amount of land mentioned in the original DPP was inadequate, according to the IMED report.
The original DPP proposed the acquisition of 18.91 hectares (1 hectare = about 2.47 acres) of land but completion of the project was not possible with that amount of land, it mentioned.
The project cost rose to Tk 3,066 crore as Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader in January 2014 approved the first revision -- which was adding another 16.52 hectares of land.
The authorities then undertook a special revision of the project in August 2016, escalating the cost to Tk 3,364 crore, due to increasing expenditure on land and structures.
Major changes in the project, however, were brought about in the second revision in May 2018.
Seven more flyovers (in addition to the originally planned two), 11 underpasses, and five foot-over bridges, were added to the project. The authorities also decided to construct a separate lane for slow-moving vehicles on both sides of the highway, instead of on one side, according to the report.
For this, the authorities had to acquire another 34.54 hectares of land and widen all bridges and culverts, the report stated. As a result, the cost of the project rose to Tk 5,593.15 crore and the revised deadline was set for June 2020.
“The second revision was required as all necessary elements were not incorporated while DPP was prepared,” reads the IMED report. “The real progress of the work is not satisfactory.”
Meanwhile, commuters face congestion near the under-construction flyovers when pressure of vehicles increases, though most of the road work has been done, according to our Tangail Correspondent, who visited the project area on February 5.
Besides, the ruts or surface depression on this highway, especially on around 15m towards Joydevpur from Elenga, is causing problems for travelers, although the project authorities did some refurbishment before the last Eid journey, he reported, citing local transport operators.
At a meeting on government projects with foreign funds on December 29 last year, Md Ishaque, the project director, said “Progress of the project is good.”
Although the roadwork could be completed by June this year, work on the flyovers would not be done by this time, so the deadline needed to be extended, he said, according to the meeting minutes.
The project director also mentioned that an additional secretary of the RHD has already talked to the deputy commissioners of Gazipur and Tangail to solve the problems related to land acquisition.
A representative of the Planning Commission, who attended the meeting, said, “The ministry should deeply concentrate onpersons responsible for the escalation of project cost and duration.”
ABM Sertajur Rahman, deputy project director, said construction of four flyovers has already been done while another would be completed by June this year.
But the remaining four would take some more time with two flyovers taking till March 2021 to complete, he told The Daily Star on January 23.
“Delay in land acquisition is the main reason behind the project delay,” he said, adding, “Rise of land acquisition cost is ultimately causing the cost escalation of the project.”
The cost of land rose due to three reasons -- introduction of a new land acquisition law, the cost rise in the rate schedules of the Public Works Department (PWD), and rise in land prices, said Sertajur.
As per the previous land acquisition law, they had to pay two times the land price but now have to pay three times that, he said. The government has to bear the additional costs.
The project witnessed 73.16 percent physical progress and 66.98 percent financial progress till December 2019.
Contacted, Project Director Md Ishaque denied the allegations of slow pace of construction work. “Wherever we got land, our work speed is good.”
He, however, admitted that the delay in land acquisition is delaying the entire project.
Asked about the observations of “poor planning” in the IMED report, he said he was not aware why separate “Slow Moving Vehicles Track (SMVT)” on both sides of the road was not included in the DPP.
“I was not project director at that time. Had SMVT on both sides been included in the DPP, they could have acquired land for this earlier.”
He, however, said they have added more flyovers and SMVTs on both sides for uninterrupted traffic movement.
Replying to another query about the IMED report that said constructing more separate lanes at various busy parts of the road would require till 2023, Ishaque said, “It will not require separate lanes as the entire road will have six lanes [with two SMVTs].”