Metro Line On Dhaka-Aricha Route: RHD fears it’ll create chaos on highway
The Dhaka-Aricha Highway may face long tailbacks and see a rise in road crashes if a metro rail line is built on the highway as proposed by the metro rail authorities, according to engineers of the Roads and Highways Department.
Construction of the metro rail line, known as Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-5 (Northern Route), will scupper an expansion plan of the highway conceived by the RHD, they said. It may also make one of the country's most important highways "a death-trap", they added.
Although serious reservations have been raised about the proposed metro rail route between Hemayetpur and Aminbazar long ago, the metro rail authorities did not pay any heed to the concerns and prepared a detailed design instead, they said.
The MRT Line-5 project, which is expected to start later this month or early next month, is being implemented by Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL). Both the RHD and the DMTCL are under the same division (Road Transport and Highways Division) of the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges.
Rejecting the fears expressed by the RHD engineers, the metro rail authorities said that they had prepared the detailed design of the proposed line considering all technical aspects and the RHD's future plans about the highway.
"Asking us to change the route now basically means cancelling the construction of the metro rail which will start soon," Md Aftab Hossain Khan, project director of MRT-5 (northern route), told The Daily Star.
The fears and frustrations shared by the RHD engineers regarding the issue are reflected in different documents they have shared with their higher authorities, including the Road Transport and Highways Division.
The 20km rail line with 14 stations will connect Hemayetpur and Bhatara via Gabtoli, Mirpur, and Gulshan. The 5.6km section, from Hemayetpur to Aminbazar, will be elevated while a 13.5km section from Gabtoli to Natunbazar will be underground. The remaining 0.9km will be elevated, too.
Physical work on the Tk 41,239 crore project will start with the development of a depot at Hemayetput. The metro rail authorities have already hired a contractor for the work and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to inaugurate the project later this month or early next month, said Aftab Hossain.
The Dhaka-Aricha highway links the capital with the north and some districts in the south. The RHD is spending Tk 696 crore to build dedicated service lanes and bus bays at major bus stops and market areas between Gabtoli and Paturia Ferry Terminal.
Moreover, the RHD in 2021 completed a feasibility study to turn the Gabtolit to Nabinagar section of the highway into an expressway.
The tussle between two agencies under the same ministry reflects the lack of a comprehensive plan for the infrastructural development projects centring Dhaka and its adjacent areas, said transport expert Prof Hadiuzzaman.
If the metro line, along with the stations, is built on the highway, it will obstruct future expansion of the highway, he added.
"This is a major highway. The highway should have been given priority considering its importance," he told The Daily Star on Monday.
As the RHD has raised the issue at the stage of drawing the design, the DMTCL should have considered it, he pointed out.
After the RHD raised its reservations about the proposed metro rail route, a meeting was held on March 23, 2021, where officials of both the RHD and the DMTCL were present.
At the meeting, RHD officials said blocking the highway corridor with metro rail structures would not be sustainable. Therefore, they requested for the Hemayetpur to Aminbazar section of the metro line to be either moved south or taken underground.
But MRT-5 Project Director Aftab Hossain Khan told the meeting that the line was planned on RHD land in accordance with the Strategic Transport Plan (STP) or revised STP. Due to technical difficulties and the heavy flow of traffic on the highway, the line cannot be moved south, he added.
The meeting also decided to sit again and finalise a paper that would be sent to the ministry concerned for a decision. But the issue was not resolved. In the meantime, the DMTCL has completed 90% of the line's design following the proposed route.
Another meeting between the RHD and DMTCL officials was held on March 23 this year.
According to the meeting minutes, Sabuj Uddin Khan, RHD's additional chief engineer for Dhaka zone, requested the DMTCL to shift the Hemayetpur and Baliapur stations to the north.
Mohammad Ahad Ullah, RHD's executive engineer for Dhaka Division, said the metro line should not be built on the median of the highway. He also said the highway might witness severe traffic congestion during the construction period, just like the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway due to the construction of the BRT line.
The Tongi-Gazipur section of Dhaka-Mymensingh highway is witnessing traffic congestion on a regular basis for years due to the construction of the BRT Line-3, a dedicated bus line from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka to Gazipur.
According to the meeting minutes, Abdullah Al Mamun, additional chief engineer (technical services wing) of RHD, said the future expansion of the highway would be obstructed if the line was built following the proposed route.
There is enough land on the south side of the highway and "it's still possible to review the design of the metro rail without using RHD land," reads the minutes.
RHD sources said Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary ABM Amin Ullah Nuri visited the project site on June 16 and gave the go-ahead for the DMTCL plan, ignoring the concerns raised by the RHD.
The secretary could not be contacted as he is abroad now.
After that, RHD's Dhaka Division Office on June 22 sent a letter to its higher authority --Dhaka Circle Office -- expressing its concern and requesting it to take necessary steps so that the metro rail route could be changed, said sources.
According to the letter, the construction of a station and a depot at Hemayetpur will obstruct their plan to build a major interchange -- a meeting point for roads which allows vehicles to move from one road to another without obstructing the flow of traffic -- in the area for the proposed Gabtoli-Nabinagar expressway and the planned Dhaka outer circular road. It would also create a permanent bottleneck there.
Most of the metro rail line structure will be constructed on the highway, which will obstruct drivers' visibility and thus will create more risk of road crashes, reducing traffic speed at the same time, the letter noted.
Besides, the MRT lines are usually being built inside the city where speed limit of vehicles remains low but high-speed inter-district vehicles will be operated on the highway, and thus will increase the risk of road crashes, it added.
Contacted, RHD's Sabuj Uddin Khan said the authorities were trying to resolve the issue. He, however, indicated that the metro rail was going to be built on the proposed route.
Replying to a question, he said, "We will shift the route of the expressway as it would take more time to start. Both the projects are important to the government."
Contacted, PD Aftab Hossain Khan, who is a retired additional chief engineer of RHD, said RHD's argument lacked technical assessment and was based on emotion.
He said they would close two lanes on the northern side of the highway at the Hemayetpur point during the construction period. To keep the traffic flow unhindered, he said, they would build two lanes on the southern side before blocking the two lanes.
There will be no problem in the other parts of the route, he added.