Traffic would not move an inch for hours on end. There was no food, no water, no toilet on the way. Relatives of the patients needing urgent medical attention did not know what to do.
As the tailback on Chittagong-Dhaka highway continued for the fifth consecutive day yesterday, suffering of the passengers and transport workers knew no bounds.
Female passengers, patients and children were the worst sufferers as they remained stuck for hours.
Businesses are also being hit hard by the congestion, which stretched around 114km from Sitakunda of Chittagong to Chouddagram of Comilla yesterday morning.
The Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the busiest in the country, sees occasional tailbacks. But the ongoing congestion began on Wednesday after a portion of the four-lane highway was closed at Fatehpur of Feni for constructing a railway-overpass in the area, said Rafique Ahmed Mazumder, traffic inspector of Fauzderhat Highway Police outpost of Chittagong.
Also, the other side of the highway in that area is in a bad shape due to rain and excessive pressure of vehicles, which worsened the situation further, he said.
The situation improved slightly in the evening after the authorities started diverting the Chittagong-bound vehicles to an alternative route in Fatehpur.
Meanwhile, the Inter-District Bus Owners Association had called for a strike from today demanding a solution, but later lifted it on assurance from Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader that things will improve soon.
The association leaders also had a meeting with Additional Commissioner (Traffic) of Chittagong Metropolitan Police Kusum Dewan at the latter's office.
They called off the strike after the meetings.
“The communications minister has promised that the work would complete in 25 days. On the basis of the assurance, we've suspended our strike,” said Kafil Uddin, general secretary of Inter-District Bus Owners Association.
“If the situation does not improve, we will announce our strike again,” he added.
“What's the point of operating vehicles? They remain stuck for 18 to 24 hours on the way,” he said, adding, “Our drivers and helpers cannot sleep, they cannot take food and drinks for long hours... It is inhuman.”
Earlier in the day, Obaidul Quader regretted the public suffering.
He told reporters at the secretariat that one lane of the overpass at Fatehpur would open tomorrow and the entire work would complete before the Eid, due in the middle of next month.
Many transport workers were seen sleeping on the highway beside their vehicles, as bus passengers looked exhausted without food and sleep.
Ambulance driver Humayun Kabir, who was carrying a patient with heart condition from Chittagong to the capital yesterday, said he was stuck for 13 hours. "The patient is suffering badly."
Firoz Alam, a covered van driver, said he started from Chittagong Port for Savar on Thursday evening. It took him 18 hours to cross around 60km from Sitakunda to Feni.
At Fatehpur in Feni, traffic police are halting vehicles coming from one side for an hour so vehicles from the other side can pass through. For the next one hour, they open the road for the vehicles of the other side, and it continues alternately, causing the tailback.
Ahsan Ahmed Saikat, a student, went to Chittagong to visit some relatives. On his way back to Dhaka, he was stranded for 10 hours yesterday.
“The bus started from Chittagong at 12:10am and we reached Feni at 10:00am. We reached Dhaka around 3:00pm.”
BGMEA SEEKS SPECIAL TRAIN SERVICE
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said businesspeople, especially the importers and exporters, are greatly affected due to this tailback on highway.
“Chittagong-Dhaka highway is the lifeline of the country.... The traffic flow should be uninterrupted round the clock,” he told The Daily Star.
Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said they were facing huge loss due to the tailback.
“Owners are continuously complaining to us. They are saying that their orders will be cancelled if they fail to ship their products because of the tailback. This is an unbearable situation,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He also demanded the government introduce a special train service on Dhaka-Chittagong route for passenger and cargo service for quick resolution to the impasse.
More than 80 percent of the goods-laden vehicles for export-import ply through the highway which is known as the economic lifeline of Bangladesh.
Contacted, Zulfikar Ahmed, executive engineer of Department of Roads and Highways, Chittagong, as well as project manager of Chittagong-Dhaka highway four-lane project, said he heard from highway police that some vehicles got out of order in the middle of the road that worsened the situation.
He declined to comment further.
LONG DELAY TO CONSTRUCT THE OVERPASS
Road transport and bridges ministry awarded the work of the railway overpass to construction firm Shipu BPL in 2012.
As the company failed to complete the work in time, the job was handed over to another firm, Al Amin Construction, under the supervision of the army.
But bus and truck drivers alleged that the construction work of the overpass began without keeping good alternative road, leading to the current situation.
The highway has been witnessing tailback since the work resumed in March last year, but the situation worsened when the alternative road was closed a few days ago due to its poor condition.
The Daily Star could not reach the construction firm for comments.
[Our staff correspondent from Chittagong Arun Bikash Dey and Comilla correspondent Khalid Bin Nazrul contributed to this report]