China wants to build Dhaka-Ctg expressway
China has proposed to build the Dhaka-Chattogram Expressway under a government-to-government-Public Private Partnership (G2G-PPP) framework, bringing the project cancelled last year back into focus.
State-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd (CSCEC) recently sent a proposal to the principal secretary to the prime minister to this effect.
A copy of the letter, sent by Liu Bingquan, authorised representative of CSCEC, was also sent to the personal secretary of the Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, ministry sources said.
The development comes at a time when road transport and bridges ministry is considering reviving the expressway plan, which was cancelled formally in October last year.
On Wednesday, the ministry's road transport and highways division will hold a meeting to take opinions from officials concerned for reviving the expressway plan, ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, secretary of the division, told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said a Chinese company has sent a proposal to implement expressway project to the principal secretary and they also received a copy.
"However, we did not get any directive from the PMO. So, the particular proposal is not on our discussion list. But we will take opinions of experts [within the ministry and agencies] at the meeting to revive the expressway plan."
Indecision, short-sightedness and piecemeal measures have long been plaguing the government's plan to upgrade the Dhaka-Chattogram corridor, considered the economic lifeline of the country.
The government took the expressway project in 2013 but the prime minister ordered to drop it in 2019, deciding instead to build a rather expensive high-speed railway between Dhaka and Chattogram, which is now on the backburner.
According to experts and business leaders, as much as 80-90 percent of the country's trade is carried out using the Dhaka-Chattogram highway, and so the government should first develop the expressway for the sake of economic growth.
Talking to this newspaper earlier this year, Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the average speed of vehicles on major highways is around 30 kilometres per hour.
Bangladesh's competitiveness in export will rise by six to seven percent if the average speed on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway reaches 80kmph, which can best be achieved with an expressway, he added.
RHD officials at a recent meeting with the chief executive officer of Public Private Partnership Authority requested to reconsider the expressway plan before taking any project to add more lanes on the existing Dhaka-Chattogram highway, RHD sources said.
The government in 2004 decided to build a limited-access road. Four years later, the ADB financed a feasibility study and concept designs of the four-lane Dhaka-Chattogram highway, according to documents of the multilateral lender.
In 2009, the daily average number of vehicles on the highway was between 20,000 and 25,000. Forty percent of them were trucks. It was expected that the number could reach 66,000 in 2030, according to the documents.
In March 2013, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the expressway project under PPP. The government signed a deal with the ADB the following month to carry out a feasibility study and make a detailed design spending Tk 97.87 crore.
Over two years later, the study was placed the before prime minister who gave consent to building the expressway consisting of elevated sections. The estimated construction cost for the 217km expressway was $2.5 billion at that time, sources said.
Consultants were even appointed for necessary assessments to implement the project under the PPP framework, RHD sources said.
But the prime minister in October 2019 ordered cancellation of the expressway project, giving directives for construction of service lanes on either side of the existing four-lane highway, sources said.
In October last year, the same cabinet committee formally scrapped the plan. Abdus Sabur, then chief engineer of the roads and highways department, told this correspondent that the prime minister was in favour of building a high-speed rail system between Dhaka-Chattogram.
BR already completed the feasibility study and detailed design for high-speed rail, spending around Tk 110 crores.
As per the study, the 224.64-km rail line, which would bring travel time between the capital and the port city down to just 55 minutes (73 minutes with stops), would cost Tk 93,350.93 crore.
But talking to this correspondent in October last year, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said the government would "go slow" considering the expenses.
Meanwhile, China Railway Group Ltd, another Chinese state-owned company, has proposed carrying out the project under the G2G-PPP framework and Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Li Jiming in April wrote to the railways minister for signing a memorandum of understanding between the company and BR "as soon as possible".
But prominent transport experts questioned the viability of a project with such huge investment. Some said BR lacks the capacity to complete this "highly ambitious" scheme.
CHINESE PROPOSAL FOR EXPRESSWAY
In its letter sent to the principal secretary to the prime minister on May 29, the CSCEC said they "understood" that the Bangladesh government wished to implement the expressway on a G2G-PPP basis.
Under the G2G-PPP arrangement, Bangladesh may request other governments to provide financial support and select state-owned or private entities to act as investors.
The company will build, maintain and operate the structure for a certain period and get money following the terms mentioned in the agreement.
No project under the G2G-PPP arrangement has yet to be implemented in Bangladesh. Discussions with several countries, including Japan and South Korea, have been going on to implement some projects under this model.
The company said they have completed numerous projects around the globe and were involved in 10 projects in Bangladesh so far totalling around $1 billion contract value.
"Desirous to be a partner in building this expressway, we hereby present ourselves for your kind assessment and consideration," reads the proposal.