Dhaka-ctg Highway

After dillydallying for nearly four years, the Chinese company expanding the Dhaka-Chittagong highway is finally stepping up the pace of its work on the four-lane project.“This time they have brought in sufficient construction materials and engaged required manpower and logistics,” said Ibne Alam, project director of the highway expansion project, claiming that the company was working at full throttle.The Daily Star reporter during a spot visit yesterday saw that work was going on at different points on the highway. It could be done even quicker, said a number of government officials.Two local companies in the project have picked up their pace, Alam added.Sinohydro Corporation, which won the contract for expanding around 140 kilometres of the 192km highway into a dual carriageway in January 2010, had been demanding an additional Tk 500 crore to finish the job.The Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges did not entertain the demand and put pressure on the company to finish the job in time. But, the company refused in violation of its contract.Sources in the ministry say things have changed after the company won the $0.68 billion contract for river training in the Padma Bridge project in September this year and it is now concentrating on the highway expansion work.

The company's apparent neglect is the prime reason behind slow progress of the work, which was originally scheduled to be wrapped up by December 2012 but the deadline had to be extended twice -- first up to December 2013 and then December next.The project costs also spiked to Tk 3,190 crore from the original Tk 1,655 crore due to inclusion of three rail overpasses and five bridges, changes in its design, price adjustments and the Chinese company's apparent reluctance in getting a move on.The costs may rise even further as the government is going to soon revise the project for the third time.Officials concerned, however, express the hope for speedy work in the coming months.The progress the Chinese firm has achieved so far in its seven packages of the project is around 39 percent, as of October last.Two local companies are expanding a 52km stretch of the highway and their progress is much better.Reza Construction has completed about 72 percent of a 37.7km stretch, while Taher Brothers has done 69 percent of its 15.3km stretch of the highway.

Workers laying the asphalt on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway near Chandina of Comilla yesterday. Work on the expansion of the highway into a dual carriageway is finally stepping up. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Workers laying the asphalt on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway near Chandina of Comilla yesterday. Work on the expansion of the highway into a dual carriageway is finally stepping up.Altogether, the three companies have completed 77km of the 192km highway, which is considered the economic lifeline of Bangladesh.The government, meanwhile, is now forced to raise the consultancy fees for the highway expansion project by 71 percent, as the consultant would have to stay longer due to the delay in project completion.The road transport and bridges ministry last week proposed the cabinet committee on purchase to increase the consultancy fees by Tk 20.6 crore, bringing the total to Tk 49.65 crore, document shows.However, timeframe for completion of the project, including defect liability period, would be December 2016, says the proposal.In 2010, a joint venture of Consulting Engineering Services (India) Pvt Ltd and Dev Consultants Ltd (Bangladesh) were appointed consultants for overseeing the work of 10 road packages and construction of two bridges on the highway.Following the slow progress of the highway expansion project, the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) last year conducted a study, which found that every contractor had quoted 14.47 percent lower than the government-estimated rates.The report said the contractors were working at a very slow pace but did not say why.Expanding the highway is one of the six high-priority projects of the government.It was initially undertaken by the BNP-Jamaat government in 2005 but due to a series of procedural hurdles and two failed tenders, the project did not see any light of the day.Assuming office in 2009, the Awami League-led government took up the project and floated a fresh tender to upgrade the highway, which is the most used road for exports and imports.Heavy traffic sometimes doubles the six-hour travel time, hampering foreign trade and causing public sufferings.The government in January 2010 signed deals with the three firms. But the work began in 2011 as problems related to the appointment of the consultant ate up a year.