The first-ever multi-lane road tunnel under the southern Karnaphuli River in Bangladesh’s main port city of Chattogram is expected to boost the country's rapid industrialization, and export and import businesses.
The move appears to elevate the South Asian nation of 170 million people to a new level of prominence in the world, as it is also the region's first river tunnel.
The ambitious project was approved by the Bangladesh government in 2015, with a budget of Bangladeshi Taka 84,470 million (approximately $994 million) and a timeframe of 2020. Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the budget was later revised to Taka 103,740 million (approximately $1,220 million) with a new deadline of December 2022.
Exim Bank of China is providing a hard loan of $696 million (approximately Taka 59,130 million) at a 2% interest rate, with the government mobilizing the rest. The China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), a private Chinese engineering firm, is working as the project's contractor.
“We have already completed more than 73% of the total works,” Md. Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, Director of the mega project, told Anadolu Agency. "We are doing our best to complete the work by the set deadline," he added.
He informed that the tunnel’s total length would be nearly 9.3 kilometers (5.78 miles), with the main tunnel under the river measuring 3.4 kilometers (2.11 miles) and the approach road extending 5.25 kilometers (3.26 miles).
Underlining the tunnel as a “challenging” and “courageous” project, Chowdhury noted that no Bangladeshi engineers had any direct experience of constructing a tunnel under a river. "Right now, we are monitoring and learning, which will help us handle larger tasks in the future," he added.
- Hope to boost industrialization
This tunnel will revolutionize the country's industrialization and communication, said a president of one of the country's top business organizations, while talking to Anadolu Agency.
“Though we have some other ports, almost 95% of our exports and imports are being operated from the Chattogram Sea Port, and it is also considered the lifeline of our economy, we must expand the communication and other infrastructures surrounding it," said Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
He added that the tunnel will encourage industry on both sides of the river, and that the port city will be envisioned as a "One City, Two Towns" concept, similar to Shanghai in China.
Years ago, China built a tunnel under the Huangpu River and subsequently developed a new Shanghai on the other side of the river, which is still viewed as a model of "One City, Two Towns" by the world.
“Already we have some industries in the southern part of Chattogram, on the other side of the Karnaphuli River, and there is vast land for industrialization. Because of this tunnel, we hope that many entrepreneurs and investors will set industries if the government ensures uninterrupted power supply and other necessary support,” Hassan added.
Besides, a newly constructed link road across the river will connect the tunnel with the highway that runs from Dhaka to Chattogram, passing via other cities, reducing traffic congestion in the port city.
- Flourishing tourism industry
The river tunnel is expected to play a vital role in expanding the potential tourism sector in Cox's Bazar and the nearby highland districts of Bandarban, Rangamati, and Khagrachari.
"People from capital Dhaka and other regions will be able to easily travel to Cox's Bazar that is internationally reputed for having the world's longest sea beach. But, due to a lack of proper communication, we have failed to gain full benefits of the city's tourism sector," Hassan explained.
"On the one hand, Cox's Bazar's domestic airport is being extended to an international standard, and on the other hand, this tunnel is improving road communication," he added, referring to the airport's newly inaugurated extension work. He expressed optimism that the tourism business in Cox's Bazar and the adjacent hilly districts would grow in the near future.
The general public is also proud of being the first South Asian country to construct a river tunnel.
People of the delta nation, who suffer from various natural disasters like flood, cyclone, river erosion, river siltation, and other climate change impacts as one of the world's most climate-vulnerable countries, have also considered the under-river tunnel as comparatively more environment-friendly and not harmful to the river's navigability.