Bangladesh will see some great strides in its transportation system with a number of mega projects expected to come to fruition by the year-end, opening up new ways to boost economic growth.
From the longest railroad bridge to the first-ever metro lines and underwater tunnel, these infrastructural undertakings with billion-dollar price tags will help the country in its bid to attain the status of a developed one by 2041.
But there were many hurdles along the way including fund crunch, complications over designs, and the unprecedented crisis stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, leading to deadline revisions and cost escalation.
Yet, these much-anticipated ventures, involving multiple public and private stakeholders, are expected to be open to the public this year.
Two other mega projects, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and first-ever elevated expressway, are making good progress and also likely to be put into service by this year.
"These projects would work as precursors to big scale development of the country in next phases," Prof Shamsul Hoque, a noted transport expert, told The Daily Star on December 20.
He, however, added, "Cost overrun and shifting of deadlines have overshadowed the elation. This also exposed that our planning was weak and our projection about deadlines was casual."
BIG BRIDGE, BIG DREAM
Padma Bridge, a self-funded project of the government worth Tk 30,000 crore, is likely to open in June.
The 6.1km double-deck bridge across the mighty Padma had been in talks since mid '90s. The government approved the project worth Tk 10,161 crore in August 2007 to be built with donor assistance.
The dream project became uncertain in September 2011, when the lead donor, World Bank, suspended its promised $1.2 billion loan on allegations of corruption conspiracy, which were later thrown out by a Canadian court. Other donors also cancelled their funding.
Then in 2012, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took a bold decision to implement the project with own funds.
The first span was installed in September 2017. The project was moving ahead smoothly but then came the onslaught of Covid-19, slowing down the progress.
The bridge, with road and rail tracks, is expected to contribute around 1.2 percent to the annual GDP growth and increase economic activities of the people of the impoverished southwest region.
ERA OF ELECTRIC TRAINS
Bangladesh would enter the era of electric trains once the metro rail project comes into operation.
The government planned to develop a 1,280km network of metro lines in the capital and adjacent areas within 2030 to reduce the horrendous traffic congestion and pollution. There would be six metro lines -- with elevated and underground options.
Though the idea of constructing Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines first came in 2005, the first project for building metro rail network in the capital was approved in December 2012.
Formally known as MRT Line 6, the first metro track is being laid from Uttara Third Phase to Motijheel at the cost of Tk 21,985 crore.
Eight sets of trains have already reached Dhaka and their performance tests are going on.
Officials of Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd, the implementing agency, said they will complete all types of trials by September to launch metro rail operation in the first phase -- from Uttara to Agargaon -- from December.
Once completed, the metro rail -- with 16 stations -- will be able to carry 60,000 people an hour, bringing down the commute time between Uttara and Motijheel to around 40 minutes from the existing two hours.
Even people in the upper class may consider shifting modes of transport once the metro rail service comes into operation, which could reduce the number of small vehicles on the roads -- the major reason for traffic jams, said Prof Shamsul.
To link two parts of Chattogram, the government took up the project to build a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, the first-ever in South Asia.
The 9.1km tunnel with a cost of Tk 10,374.42 crore will help develop a modern transportation system between Dhaka, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar, and will also be linked to the Asian Highway.
Although the project was approved in November 2015, physical work began in December 2017.
The project authority recently sought a six-month extension of the current deadline of December 2022, but officials maintain that they would be able to open the tunnel within this year.
In 2012, the government took up a project to cut down Dhaka's perineal traffic congestion by building an elevated expressway under public-private partnership.
After extending the deadline several times, the authorities now aim to open a portion of the expressway -- from Airport to Tejgaon Rail Station -- to the public in December.
Once fully completed, the 19.73km expressway stretching from Shahjalal International Airport to Kutubkhali on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway is expected to help people cross Dhaka without having to face the traffic congestion inside the city.
Besides, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service from the airport to Gazipur is also expected to be open in December.
The project was taken up in November 2012 for building the 20.5km bus corridor to allow people to reach Dhaka from Gazipur. It was supposed to be completed by December 2016 but got delayed due to various complexities.
The service would start with 100 new buses, which would be able to transport 20,000 passengers per hour. There would be 25 stations on the corridor.
However, officials say, meeting these deadlines definitely depends on many factors, particularly Covid pandemic. If the Covid situation deteriorates again, it will be difficult for some projects to complete their work in time.