The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has approved a $404 million loan for upgrading the Sylhet-Tamabil highway to four lanes, aiming to improve Bangladesh's intercity travel and cross-border connectivity.
The board of AIIB approved the loan at its April 3 meeting, AK Mohammad Fazlul Karim, additional chief engineer of the Roads and Highways Department (RHD), told The Daily Star yesterday.
Of the total loan, $369 million will go for the project directly while rest would be used for other expenditure including paying the interest, Fazlul Karim, also the project director, said.
Project funds will go towards the construction, operation and maintenance of roads, in addition to institutional and project management support, according to an AIIB press release.
"As the first stand-alone transport project supported by AIIB in Bangladesh, the project will allow the Bank to gain experience in cross-border connectivity in South Asia," said AIIB Vice President (Investment Operations) DJ Pandian.
"At the same time, the project will allow the country to improve sustainability and potentially attract private sector participation and community involvement in road maintenance."
The upgrade of the 56.16-kilometre national highway between Sylhet and the Tamabil border crossing will improve overall commuter safety and reduce travel times for road users, including freight vehicles and buses, RHD officials said.
The Sylhet-Tamabil road (about 56.16 kilometres) is part of the Dhaka-Narsingdi-Sylhet-Tamabil National Highway corridor with a total length of 286 kilometres. The government is working to upgrade Dhaka-Sylhet Highway with the finance of Asian Development Bank.
Tamabil, a hilly area in Sylhet across the border of the Indian state of Meghalaya, about 5km from Jaflong, is a popular tourist destination.
The corridor is strategically important for sub-regional connectivity with the seven northeastern states of India, as well as Bhutan, Myanmar and China.
Fazlul Karim said review work for the detail design is almost done and they have a plan to start the physical work of the project within October or November this year.
"However, everything would depend on the coronavirus situation," he added.
The overall objective of the "Improvement of the Sylhet-Tamabil Road to Four-lane Highway" project is to generate economic benefits by the facilitation the faster, safer and more economic links between Sylhet and Tamabil, reads the project documents.
Besides, the border crossing at Tamabil -- between Bangladesh and India -- has the potential to generate significantly increased traffic, which would have a positive economic affect for people.
Further economic benefits could be expected from the increased use of the road corridor by commercial traffic travelling to and from other parts of the country and cross-border traffic travelling from eastern India to Dhaka, it added.