Karnaphuli tunnel set for another delay

The Karnaphuli tunnel, South Asia’s first under-river tunnel, is set to be delayed by at least six more months.

The much-hyped Tk 10,374 crore project is scheduled for completion in December 2022.

But last month, Md Harunur Rashid Chowdhury, project director of the multilane road tunnel scheme, wrote to the Bangladesh Bridge Authority seeking additional six months to make up for the delayed start of construction and the procedural delays in payment to contractors.

The construction of the 9.39 kilometer-long underwater expressway tunnel, which is aimed at improving the Dhaka-Chattagram-Cox’s Bazar highway network, began in December 2017 — two years after the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council had approved the project at an estimated cost of Tk 8,446 crore.

“We are trying our level best to complete the project within the stipulated time,” Chowdhury told over the phone.

Construction works of the tunnel, christened the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, was disrupted because of the pandemic, he said. “But it is difficult to say as of this moment whether we would be able to.”

As of October, 76 percent of the physical work for the project is complete.

If the physical work is complete in due time, additional time would be needed to complete the official formalities including making payment to contractors, Chowdhury said.

China Communication Construction Company is constructing the tunnel.

A senior official in the Economic Relations Division acknowledged receiving a letter on the time extension.

No decision has been taken on the matter by the ERD yet as it has to be signed off by the Exim Bank of China, which is providing about 57 percent of the project cost in soft loans.

“It will take time,” he added.

The tunnel is one of the 27 projects chosen for funding by China during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to Bangladesh in October 2016 with the view to ushering in a new era of bilateral relations.

The Exim Bank of China is providing Tk 5,913 crore at an interest rate of 2 percent, while the Bangladesh government is providing Tk 4,461 crore.