We have been constantly wrestling with two intertwined issues revolving around the country's roads- and- highways infrastructure in a collective sense. The first one is to keep pace with the increasing volumes of goods and passengers on transit through the road transportation system. The second is regarding modernisation of the infrastructure incorporating the latest features in order to reap the maximum dividends out of it.
On the first count, what with a gingerly, even procrastinating, pace of converting two-lane highways into four-lane ones (in a multilane motorway era!), we have lagged behind in matching with the need for capacity building of the existing infrastructure. On the second agenda of upgrading it we have been a late starter but seem to have embarked on it with some spadework done this time round.
Last Saturday a report in this paper titled "Move to develop expressway network" revealed: "Officials said state-run Roads and Highways Department (RHD) with support from Public-Private-Partnership Authority(PPA) has already prepared groundwork for identifying routes , considering the potential increase in traffic movement and industrial and agricultural development".
The compelling nature of the move is underlined by the admission that the department has no expressway in a real sense in its more than 21,000 kilometre roads and highways network. It is, however, good to know that more than 30 routes have been identified based on certain criteria.
Obviously, there is need for a model fitting into an integrated infrastructure. It allows for little experimentation by way of any trial and error process because of the sheer cost involved. The projects must be undertaken with a clear conception based on best practice methods.
An expressway is defined as a "highway with partial access and extra facilities like access ramp and lane divider. It is designed for fast traffic with controlled entrance and exit, a dividing strip between traffic in opposing directions…" Simply put, it 'facilitates transportation of goods and people through the access control highway'.
It is understood that the highway and the regional corridor developer has already developed a project to establish an expressway between the capital and the Chattogram port city. Also the under-construction Dhaka-Mawa and Joydevpur-Elenga roads being developed on the concept of expressway may be the forerunner of more to come.
The traffic turn-around time for both commercial cargo and passenger commute, especially to and from the port cities, has been overlong. So long indeed that it has put into question any notion of 'competitive' handling of exports and imports -- by an extension having a knock-on effect on our ports' reputation.
So there has been the concern for matching with the ever increasing demands for transportation of goods, services and passengers across a rapidly developing country like Bangladesh. Addressing this task becomes all the more pressing with a futuristic relevance having regard to connectivity corridors on sub-regional and inter-regional scales.
A land-scarce country as we are, admittedly we feel hemmed in by a factor called 'horizontal inelasticity'. Little do we realise though that we are neither a very small country nor the densest in terms of population. In fact, we are the tenth densest country in the world. If the limitation of size were a debilitating factor then we have only to look to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei etc for the most obvious examples in order to optimise the benefits of infrastructure by embellishing and modernising it.
The overarching obligation for the expressway undertaking, lest we forget, is to ensure the safest and fully-productive quality road network. The add-ons spell the message that we must be prepared to err on the side of caution.
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