Despite all odds, the Dhaka Elevated Expressway (DEE) is now a reality. The first 11.5 km part of it has been readied for opening. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates it today (Saturday) and the toll collection will start tomorrow (Sunday).
Opening of this part of the 19.73 km expressway proves that any mission impossible can be made possible by dint of sheer determination and untiring efforts.
The DEE is being constructed from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) to Kutubkhali on the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway. Its total length, however, will be 46.73 km, if the 27 km length of a total of 31 ramps is included. The inaugural part will have 15 ramps measuring 11 km for entry and exit vehicles.
So, people coming from the northern side including those from the HSIA now will easily be able to avoid traffic gridlock and reach Kuril, Banani, Mohakhali and Farmgate in 10 to 11 minutes.
Thanks to the PPP project's public sector partner, Bangladesh Bridges Authority (BBA), and the private partner, Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited (ITD), which have worked to take this project forward. The project has come this far despite the challenges arising from frequent changes in the design and non-cooperation by different influential quarters.
According to officials and experts, the project has faced all these unwanted challenges due to not following the procedures of implementation. The PPP was a new concept. The government also tried to implement it without any feasibility study and detailed design.
Change of the communication minister and separation of railway from the communication ministry have also left the project in the slow lane.
It is also claimed that the ITD has been working for the project in Bangladesh since 2004. It played a vital role in selecting the present north-south corridor for the DEE when a study was suggested for proposing the expressway alignments in an investor conference in 2009.
The ITD took the opportunity to bid for the work, when the Awami League government announced the DEE as its priority project soon after assuming the state power.
The ITD was among 10 interested companies that bought the tender papers. But only two of them submitted their proposals. The initial route of 26 kilometres was planned to run from the HSIA to Kutubkhali on the Chittagong Highway through Kuril-Banani-Mohakhali-Tejgaon-Satrasta-Moghbazar-Kamalapur.
But the Mohakhali and Tejgaon ramps were dropped from the plan and the route was diverted from Moghbazar later on.
Moreover, the scenario of the project continued to change in the wake of the Padma Bridge imbroglio. The ITD which is known much as a contractor and has the working experience of building the Rupsha bridge with Japan could not manage the required US $ 1.13 billion from any source.
The BBA also could not hand over the land to the ITD in time due to obstruction from private land owners. The ITD, on the other hand, could not submit its financial closure for being unable to manage the 51 per cent equity due to the changed situation.
Though the DEE alignment over the railway corridor was selected for avoiding the problem of land acquisition from the private sector, the BBA faced resistance from the Bangladesh Railway first and later from other government agencies.
By trying tirelessly to resolve all these problems one by one during all these years, the authorities could ready the present stretch of the DEE finally. The ITD also raised the fund from two Chinese companies by selling shares.
Thus the DEE, the first project under the PPP model, has moved to its next stage, where its revenue collection will start from September 3. Now the next challenge for both the BBA and the ITD is to ensure traffic on the ready part of the DEE. They also face another challenge in completing the project by building the DEE upto Kutubkhali.
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