Hope for rapid bus ride on Dhaka city's bumpy north corridor soon looks dashed with the priority project now turning a 'lame duck' allegedly for planning mismatch and faltering execution.
Sources say a ray of hope sparked about getting an improved road condition from Uttara to Joydevpur in the near future with the undertaking of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line- construction project. But it dims as frustration still persists among agencies involved with the implementation works of the dedicated bus lane in-between the busy highway for lots of hassle.
The FE correspondent finds not only the road-users taking much pain caused by the construction of the BRT line in a haphazard state but also the project-implementing agencies struggling to manage daily work in an orderly manner.
Both Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and Bangladesh Bridges Authority (BBA) are in private expressing faint hope over completion of the project even by an extended deadline at the present pace of going.
Officially it is declared that the 20.2-kilometre BRT line will be opened to traffic by December this year, after extending the timeline by six months from this coming June.
Transport experts also air frustrations over the project from a different dimension, thinking that it would, finally, do much disservice than service for what they call flaws starting from the study level to planning and implementation.
They argue that the BRT North project was shown feasible on grounds of picking and carrying commuters of BRT South or BRT 3--which was supposed to run to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) from Sayedabad on the southern corridor-up to Joydevpur Shibchar terminal.
But as the BRT 3 has eventually been shelved by the government, viability of the Gazipur-Airport BRT, known as BRT North, comes under question.
They rather opine that construction of a 10-lane road on the BRT corridor "could be easier and better solution to the traffic congestion with lower level of sufferings to commuters".
Project-office sources say both RHD and BBA are still in trouble to make the two Chinese contractors work timely in their respective field by following schedule, even after its revision few months before.
According to monthly report, the RHD part's work had been lagging behind more than 1700 days while BBA's share by nearly 1500 days till December 15. Both the contractors' time has elapsed by 185.15 per cent and 159 per cent respectively.
RHD is supposed to develop two-lane dedicated bus corridor along with 25 stations and widen the existing road into four lanes. With another two-lane road remaining for slow-moving vehicles, total 10-lane road is now being developed from Joydevpur to Airport.
Apart from RHD and BBA, Local Government Engineering Department was involved with the Tk 40-billion project, but its works to develop depot and connecting roads completed in the meantime.
Visiting the busiest corridor twice in December, this correspondent found parts of structures like five-lane Tongi Bridge, U-loop at Joydevpur crossing, elevated road near the Airport and stations on the dedicated bus lane developed.
But continuation of the work to complete flyover or bridges connecting one side with another was not seen. The Tongi bridge is visible after Uttara, but it has over one-km missing structure after the Turag river and then some work is done on ramp.
Same is with the elevated road which started near the Airport-there has been discontinuation till Muscat plaza, though ready girders are found kept on the middle of the road.
No piling works or piers were developed on that part.
The state of the project also dissatisfies transport-expert Prof Mohammed Shamsul Hoque. He says the government has thrown axe on its own foot by taking this project without considering the traffic of industrial belt, northern districts as sell as alternative road to divert them.
"This is a captive corridor but there is no planning for this. Lack of professionalism is also there in handling the project, which has caused people to suffer as well as the project-executing agencies now," the engineering professor told the FE, echoing the tone of the reporter's frustration.
He also said the project did not consider smart construction on this busy corridor by bringing modern technology but awarded both the works at less than the estimated cost.
Transport experts say the number of users has increased to 60,000 per day from 40,000 at the time of study but it has lack of measures to manage vehicles efficiently. Even the road under the constructed bridge or elevated road was also not being carpeted to lessen the pain of road-users.
The road after the Dhaka-bypass crossing looks like a village road with uneven brick pavements, including in front of Borsha cinema hall. Pavement road has also been damaged due to heavy-duty vehicles' pressure.
This correspondent travelled the corridor from Uttara in half an hour early in the morning but returned home having lost two hours in the afternoon due to heavy traffic and slow driving for bad condition of the road.
Project Director M Shafiqul Islam, however, claims that road condition on the RHD part is better as the contractor has made the two-lane road on both sides of the BRT corridor usable by carpeting recently.
Answering to questions on missing link and the extent of works remaining on dedicated BRT lane, the PD says: "The road under the elevated and Tongi bridge is bad which cannot be blamed on RHD."
Shafiqul Islam, also lead PD of the multi-implementing agency of BRT, admits that both the contractors run behind schedule every month even after it was revised. "We have continued to create pressure to do majority work during the current dry season," he says.
Project officials say want of cash flow has been found in both cases of contractors, and the RHD has informed the Chinese Embassy here regarding the slow progress being made by the country's contractors with no pragmatic solution.
They find the companies having lack of manpower, equipment etc for which the schedule of work cannot be taken over.
"It is very difficult to carry out the work in-between the busy road. Even taking any machines to the site is also not easy-always have to scare of accidents," said one official, preferring not to be named as he is not a spokesperson to the media.
Developing BRT corridor is the cheapest and shorter-time-consuming project among all infrastructure projects in the world. But the RHD project taken under the busy corridor- development project has been identified as a costly one.
After revision twice, the project cost doubles to Tk 42.68 billion from Tk 20.4 billion. Recently another revision is going on. Due to unplanned development, the RHD and BBA both faced problem in developing drainage system, land acquisition and utility shifting, particularly 33KV electric line after the Tongi bridge, after the contractors started the construction work late.
RHD has taken the BRT project under Greater Dhaka Sustainable Urban Transport Project with the financial support mainly from the Asian Development Bank which did feasibility study in 2012.
The project was taken when the government had plans to develop BRT line 3 under the strategic transport plan from airport to Sayedabad. But the BRT 3 has been jettisoned by the government after feasibility study and detailed design work.
Under the GDSUT project, 20-kilometre dedicated bus lane with 24 stations, 4.5-km elevated bus lane, 10-lane Tongi bridge, seven flyovers, one bus terminal, 113 access roads and 24-km drainage system on both sides from Joydevpur crossing to Turag River will be developed.
Of the two Chinese companies, Genzhouba (CGCG) was awarded the work at its contract value of Tk 8.5 billion, which commenced in April 2017, while Jiangsu (JTEG) with its contract value of Tk 9.3 billion, which commenced in December 2017. Both the contractors, however, started work in January 2020.