After opening the Padma Bridge, Bangladesh is on its way to fulfilling another dream with the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, the first underwater expressway in the country, expected to be open to traffic by the end of 2022.
The work, including the construction of the main tunnel and the approach roads in Chattogram, is 86 per cent complete, according to Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, director of Construction of Multilane Road Tunnel Under River Karnaphuli Project.
"We are trying to complete the work on time."
The main tunnel is 3.32 kilometres long. It has two tubes, each 2.45 km long, and has a diameter of 10.80 metres. Each tube will consist of two lanes. The tubes are 12 metres apart from each other.
There will be a 5.35 km connecting road on the west and east ends of the main tunnel, along with a 727-metre long bridge.
The tunnel goes under the Karnaphuli at the Patenga Naval Academy point in the port city to a depth of 18m to 31m to Anwara Upazila on the other side of the river, reports bdnews24.com.
Highlighting the challenges of constructing the tunnel, the project director said, "It is not [an ordinary] bridge or a road. After the completion of the work, all issues, including the suitability with running vehicles, will be checked and then it will be opened to traffic.”
The government hopes that with the opening of the Bangabandhu Tunnel, life on the two banks of the river will change and economic activities will expand greatly.
There will be better connectivity between the tourist city Cox’s Bazar, southern Chattogram and the rest of the country once the tunnel is open. It will also decrease the number of vehicles using the two bridges over the river.
South of the river in Anwara lies the Korean and Chinese export processing zones, the CUFL factory and Parki Beach. All routes to Cox's Bazar, Banshkhali and Matarbari power station and deep seaport go through Anwara.
Chattogram city would be developed as "one city two towns", like China's Shanghai city through the construction of the tunnel, the government says.
Work on the project began in December 2017, two years after getting the greenlight.
But the pace of work was a bit slow during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, from March to the first week of September, the construction work progressed only 5 per cent.
Import of equipment from abroad faced challenges due to the pandemic, hindering the work, officials said.
The construction of the two tubes of the tunnel under the river has already been completed. The first tube took 17 months to complete, but the second one was completed in 10 months. Structural work on the tunnel is currently ongoing.
With the aim of connecting the Asian Highway and building a new road link between Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar, the China Communication and Construction Company Limited (CCCC) is constructing the tunnel.
The government also hopes that the tunnel will play a role in increasing the existing facilities of Chattogram port and accelerating the construction of the proposed deep sea port in Matarbari.
There are five access points to the tunnel from its north end facing the port city -- Outer Ring Road, Elevated Expressway, Kathgarh Road, Airport Road and Patenga Beach Road.
Jointly funded by Bangladesh and China, the initial cost of the project was estimated at Tk 98.8 billion. The cost was subsequently revised up to Tk 103.74 billion.
Inaugurating the Padma Bridge on June 25, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she hoped to launch two more mega projects in the country, metro rail and Bangabandhu Tunnel, this year.