Chattogram port city suffers from severe traffic congestion. An intolerable situation prevails on all working days except Fridays and Saturdays. Traffic gridlocks are witnessed even during late hours of night. An elderly university teacher said his private car took 70 minutes to reach Nasirabad Housing at Sholashahar from his office at Agrabad Southland Centre, a journey of only six kilometres after 8.00 PM on the CDA Avenue. Even on foot it takes 75 minutes for anyone to cross the distance.
Although buses and mini-buses plying in the city accommodate 70 per cent of the passengers and serve as the mode of intra-city and inter-regional transport, these vehicles have no dedicated bus lane. Of the total volume of traffic, the pedal rickshaws, the most slow-moving mode of transport that carries two passengers at the most, occupy 43 per cent of the road, three-wheeler autos 39 per cent, buses and mini-buses 8.0 to 11 per cent and cars 11 to 20 per cent, according to a survey.
Chittagong Development Authority (CDA), responsible for road development and widening in the city, launched a massive drive for widening and construction of roads and three flyovers. The drive began in 2009 when Chittagong City Awami League leader Abdus Salam was appointed its Chairman. But the scenario remains least improved as there is no urban traffic plan for regulation of transport. The road traffic system is both chaotic and anarchic. Another important point to note here is that the flyovers and overpasses constructed by the CDA are found to be of little use as the public transport does not use them due to lack of entrance and exit facilities for the passengers at busy and important junctions of the roads.
Commuters, on the other hand, are of the opinion that traffic congestion in the city, under the existing unplanned traffic system, is also caused due to lack of dedicated bus lanes for their smooth movement, illegal occupation of roads for illegal parking by cars, auto-rickshaws and other slow-moving non-motorised rickshaws.
At times, traffic police themselves create traffic jams when they stop vehicles on the middle of the roads, allegedly, for earning a few extra bucks. City commuters suffer most in the rush hours in the morning since availability of buses remains a problem then.
There are 16 routes in the city for the tempos, human haulers, mini-buses and buses, each route having vehicles numbering 300 to 1200 based on the number of passengers listed with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) in the city. But neither the BRTA authority nor the traffic department of the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) ever cares about the plight of the commuters. Asked, the traffic officials said the drivers of public buses and human haulers have the right to run the vehicles when they wish and they have right to go on hire for transporting owners of garment and other factories. Drives by the mobile courts do often cause traffic disruption as passenger buses disappear from streets to escape fines or seizures.
The CDA has constructed four flyovers and overpasses at busy junctions in the city but the citizens are yet to benefit from the infrastructure as only a small number of cars and auto-rickshaws use the flyovers. The passenger buses, mini-buses, human haulers and tempos are avoiding them as they lack facilities for the passengers' getting on and off the vehicles during travelling on the flyovers.
The passengers using the Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport are regular sufferers for lack of passenger transportation. The CDA has undertaken a massive elevated expressway project at a cost of Tk 28.00 billion. Implementation process of the project from Lalkhan Bazaar to the Airport is underway. The expressway will lead to the existing Akhtaruzzaman Chowdhury Flyover linking Lalkhan Bazaar with Muradpur and Bahaddarhat.
But the project faces opposition from the city planners of the private sector entity Forum for Planned Chittagong (EPC). Terming the expressway unplanned the FPC leaders said construction of the expressway at an estimated cost of Tk 28 billion was undertaken only for about 200 very important persons (VIPs) and commercially important persons (CIPs). Once the flyover is constructed, implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) projects in future will be obstructed and there will be no alternative to its demolition for space. They urged the authorities to assess what percentage of commuters will use the expressway.
The FPC, chaired by vice chancellor of East Delta University Professor Sikandar Khan, a veteran economist, suggested construction of a dedicated bus road for the common people alongside the existing CDA Avenue instead of the expressway, They urged authorities to discourage use of personal and private vehicles on the roads and introduce public transport to save the city from severe traffic congestions. They alleged that the city has no public buses run by the BRTC. The BRTC office in Chattogram should be made accountable. There are hundreds of BRTC buses including the double-deckers in Dhaka but the second largest city, which is also a port city, does not have the public buses. The people of the city could be immensely benefited from the state-run buses.
Professor Ali Ashraf, pro-vice chancellor of Southern University Bangladesh and head of civil engineering department, has been working on city planning, environment-friendly and healthy city development projects, road infrastructure, flood control and arsenic contamination for a long time. He came up with a number of proposals to address the city's traffic problem. He said that long term remedy lay in introduction of the BRT system.
Engineer Ashraf said a parallel new road on the existing CDA Avenue along the north-south alignment on the west of the CDA Avenue from Bahaddarhat to Patenga at an estimated cost of Tk 6.25 to 7.50 billion will reduce the city's traffic congestion. Alongside construction of the road, the government could use a huge area in its future projects. The CDA Avenue remains the main thoroughfare of the commercial capital. There are proposals for two such alternative roads on the east and west sides of the CDA Avenue in the 1995 Master Plan of the CDA. Besides, to make the Fouzderhat-Patenga section and Sadarghat-Kalurghat section popular for traffic, the authority can include the ring roads under the BRT system.
The commuter train system can be introduced on the long-neglected Chattogram-Dohazari and Chattogram-Nazirhat branch line of the Bangladesh Railway East by improving the railway tracks so that thousands of people coming to the city from south and north Chattogram to attend offices and for other purposes can easily go back home without staying in the city everyday. In the 1960s and 1970s thousands of people made regular journeys to the city from villages to attend offices and returned home daily.
Another option is that there is a railway track from the Chittagong Dry Dock to the Kalurghat Bridge over the Karnaphuli River. Most parts of the track are lying unused for decades. This railway track can be repaired and renovated at the minimum cost and the rail route can be used for introduction of a metro rail. The railway authority can conduct a feasibility study on the issue, he said.
The CDA planning department is now preparing a strategic urban transport master plan for Chattogram city that identifies projects and policies to implement the short, medium and long-term plans to mitigate the road traffic congestion. The CDA is conducting a technical assistance study financed by World Bank on the Chattogram Strategic Urban Transport Master Plan (SUTMP) which is nearing its final stage. Two consulting firms working with the World Bank -- e.Gen Consultants Ltd and Integrated Transport Planning Ltd -- have almost finalised the study, aimed to solving the current transport problems.
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