28 Axle Load Control Centres: Crucial RHD project runs into snag
Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has failed to start the physical work of a project taken up two years ago for installing 28 axle load control centres despite a call by one of its wings for implementing axle load control on highways ungently to reduce road damages.
The department even could not complete land acquisition for most of the centres under the Tk 1,630.28 crore project which will expire in June next year.
The Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase last month approved a proposal on appointments of contractors and consultants for the project. The RHD selected two contractors for the work, but it could not issue the work order duo to a government embargo.
Once the contractors start the work formally, they would get 12 months to complete it. So, the project authorities will eventually have to extend the deadline, officials said.
Project Director Abdullah Al Mamun admitted that they were behind schedule due to the delay in land acquisition and the Covid-19 pandemic.
"However, we have already completed all necessary procedures and will sign deals with contractors and consultants once the 'lockdown' is lifted. Then they will start the physical work," Mamun told The Daily Star on Tuesday.
He said they were working on the project by attaching the highest priority to it.
Responding to a question, the PD said they would seek an extension of the deadline, if needed.
The 28 axle load control centres, where weight of goods-laden vehicles would be measured, will be set up at the entrances to all major highways from sea and land ports and major terminals to ensure that no overloaded vehicle is operated on highways.
According to the RHD, there are 22,428km national and regional highways and district roads under the department across the country.
Its own survey published last month shows over 3,000km surveyed roads -- 16.26 percent -- are in "poor, bad or very bad" condition.
The RHD would require around Tk 15,606 crore to repair the damaged roads in the current fiscal year, according to the Maintenance and Rehabilitation Needs Report 2021-22.
As per the report, RHD has to reconstruct 1287.13km road fully and 1493.88km road partially in the current fiscal year. The department has to carry out periodic maintenance of 11,970km road.
The length of roads, which would require full and partial reconstruction this fiscal year, is much higher than the outgoing year, shows document.
The Highway Development and Maintenance (HDM) Circle of RHD, which prepared the report, said a rise in demand for partial reconstruction work indicates that strength of roads has reduced or traffic load has increased.
"Therefore, axle loads on those roads should be controlled urgently," the report recommended.
In its previous year's report, the HDM circle had recommended reconstructing 695km road fully and 722.65km partially.
The circle said Tk 2,081 crore would be required in the current fiscal year for partial reconstruction, up from 1851.79 crore in the last fiscal year.
Experts also find overloading of trucks as one of the major reasons for quick damages to roads.
Transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque, also a professor of civil engineering at Buet, said the government was allowing overloaded trucks that were destroying roads long before the service life. He termed it a "suicidal decision" by the government.
He said a two-axle truck is supposed to carry 16 tonnes of goods, but the government is permitting it to carry 22 tonnes. Similarly, larger trucks are carrying heavier loads against the approved load capacity set by their manufacturers.
Only two axle load control centres are now being operated in the country. They are operational on the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway, officials said.
WHY THE PROJECT?
The authorities for the first-time had imposed fines for overloading in August, 2016.
But on the very day, transport owners and workers damaged weighbridges in Manikganj and Chattogram, forcing the government to increase the maximum weight limit of goods-laden vehicles later.
In September 2019, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project to set up 28 axle load control centres at 21 points across the country.
After completion of the tendering process, the RHD sent three proposals to the Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase for appointing contractors and consultants. The committee approved those last month, said an RHD official who is aware of the project.
But the project authorities could not award the work to the contractors and consultants due to an embargo on issuance of work order.
The finance ministry in April had asked all ministries, except health and agriculture, not to issue work order for any physical works till June as austerity measures amid pandemic.
COMPLICATIONS OVER LAND ACQUISITION
The main component of the project is acquiring land at a cost of around Tk 800 crore. The RHD has to procure private land for most of the centres, RHD sources said.
The RHD has so far completed land acquisition for three axle load control centres. Besides, seven others will be installed on its own land. Acquisition of land for several centres are under process.
But the authorities are facing complications regarding acquiring land in four districts.
In Cumilla, a local lawmaker is opposing the move for acquiring land at the selected site. In Nilphamari, the project authorities could not acquire land at the selected site as a preliminary decision was made to build an economic zone there.
In Kurigram, all stakeholders, including a local lawmaker, have been demanding change of the selected site for the centre.
In Chattogram, the project authorities selected a site on its own land along Bandar Connectivity Road for a centre, but illegal occupants of the land are opposing the initiative.
Project Director Mamun said they were working to overcome all these complications.