Work to build the country's first underwater expressway tunnel -- Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel -- under Karnaphuli River is going on in full swing, with around 62 percent of work already completed, according to officials.
Although pace of work was a bit slow in the second quarter of last year due to the pandemic, it has been ramped up to complete the project by December, 2022, said project sources.
As the Chinese citizens working in the project went to their country in the early months of last year, work was hindered between March and September, they said. After they came back and resumed work, the project is advancing in full speed.
Engineers and workers, comprising 290 Chinese nationals and over 600 locals, are working to implement the project.
The 94-metre high tunnel boring machine (TBM) is now digging deep, around 100 feet, to install the tunnel's second tube out of the two, going from Anwara upazila to Chattogram city. Installation work of the first tube, going from the city back to Anwara, was completed in August last year, said Harun-ur-Rashid Chowdhury, project director of Multilane Road Tunnel Under River Karnaphuli Project.
The tunnel would go deep, between 18-31 metres beneath the riverbed, he said.
While inaugurating installation work of the second tube in December last year, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said the tunnel would bring about a revolutionary change in the southern part of Chattogram.
Chattogram city would be developed as "one city two towns", like China's Shanghai city, where the eastern and western parts are connected in such a manner, he said. Communication among Dhaka, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar would be easier and less time consuming.
Earlier on February 24, 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated boring work of the tunnel.
The tunnel's total length will be around 9.3 kilometres, with a 3.4-kilometre part under Karnaphuli river, and an approach road of 5.25 kilometres alongside 727 metres of an over-bridge, Harun said.
The tunnel goes under the Karnaphuli at the Naval Academy point in port city's Patenga to connect to Anwara upazila on the other side of the river.
Each tube of the tunnel will have two lanes and would allow one-way traffic. One would allow vehicles to move from the city to Anwara and the other in the opposite direction, said Harun.
The length of each tube would be 2.45km and diameter 11.8 metres, he said.
China Communication and Construction Company Limited (CCCC) is constructing the tunnel, he added.
Earlier in 2013, Bangladesh Bridges Authority with support from CCCC, Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong Limited jointly conducted a technical and financial feasibility study for constructing the tunnel, he said. It gave a report that its construction would be an economically successful project.
The project cost was estimated at Tk 8,446.64 crore in 2015, which has increased to Tk 9,880 crore at present, said Harun. Work for the project started on December 5, 2017.
Harun said project cost rose because the price of land has increased three times.
Hailing the tunnel's construction, Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Mahbubul Alam told The Daily Star that the tunnel would strengthen the role of Chattogram as the centre of communication, develop communication of Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar national highway, improve communication between both sides of Karnaphuli river, and lessen the pressure of traffic on the two existing bridges over the river.
He, however, said to get the tunnel's full benefit, the road from Banshkhali upazila in Chattogram to Chakaria in Cox's Bazar would have to be expanded.
Echoing the same, architect Zarina Hossain, general secretary of Forum for Planned Chattogram, said there should be facilities for movement of huge traffic on both sides of the river; otherwise the expensive tunnel would remain underutilised.