The Rampura Expressway project is yet to enter construction six years after it was approved by the government.

The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) finally signed a deal with the Consortium of China Communications Construction Company Limited and China Road and Bridge Corporation (CCCCL-CRBC) on Sunday. The consortium will have four years to implement the mega project.

The public-private partnership (PPP) project aims to upgrade the Hatirjheel-Rampura-Banasree-Amulia-Demra Highway into a 4-lane expressway to reduce traffic congestion in Dhaka.

Despite the delay in laying the groundwork for the project, Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary Md Nazrul Islam was optimistic that construction would be completed by the 2025 deadline.

However, transport experts cited the lack of progress of similar PPP projects already being implemented in the country as evidence that the wait may be far longer.

Prominent transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque said the main reason for the delay so far in the Rampura Expressway project was the inefficiency and corruption of the RHD.

“As it is a PPP project and foreign investors are involved, the authorities should be more transparent. Unexpected delays always negatively affect investors,” he added.

“When government authorities take unexpected time, the appointed construction firm also becomes more unwilling to implement the project,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

Enamul Haque, member of the parliamentary standing committee on the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry, said PPP projects were finally gaining momentum in recent years as they have become more popular among investors.

“When the PPP system was started in 2009/2010, it was not very popular enough. Nowadays, many investors are interested in implementing projects through PPP,” he said.

“It is our success that we have already signed deals to implement some major infrastructure projects through PPP and now all the projects are progressing quickly. For example, a part of the Dhaka Elevated Expressway will be opened by this year,” said Sultana Afroz, CEO of the PPP Authority Bangladesh.

The Rampura Expressway is the third PPP project to develop infrastructure in Bangladesh under the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry. The first and second projects are far behind deadlines, according to the PPP Authority.

The Dhaka Elevated Expressway was the first PPP project under the Bridge Division. It was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on July 20, 2011 and scheduled to be completed by 2014. However, progress of the project is still below 50%.

Work for upgrading the 48km Dhaka Bypass Road into a dual carriageway was inaugurated on December 27, 2019.  The work is scheduled to be completed by 2022, but the RHD wishes to extend the deadline to 2024 as the progress of the project is below 10% after 2 years.

Confusion in the tender process

The government took the Rampura Expressway project in 2015. THe Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved it in principle on January 26, 2016.

On 01 July 2018, three Chinese companies and an Indian company were shortlisted to submit their proposals to the technical evaluation committee formed by the RHD.

The RHD committee selected CCCCL-CRBC even though the consortium was not the lowest bidder. As a result, the PPP Authority formed a review panel that recommended the fixing of certain inconsistencies.

The RHD then selected CCCCL-CRBC as the contractor of the project and sent the proposal to the cabinet committee without addressing the review panel’s concerns, so the cabinet sent it back to the RHD. After the necessary changes, the deal was finally signed.

All of this took more than three years.

According to the agreement, the construction firm will bear the entire construction cost of around Tk2,094crore and get returns from tolls on the highway for 25 years.

Meanwhile, the government will bear Tk1,209 crore for acquiring land, resettlement, consultancy services, and expenses of the project implementation unit.

Land acquisition is yet to be completed as the RHD has not completed procedures for the rehabilitation of people living in project areas.

Nur-e-Alam, superintendent engineer of RHD, said: “We have already sent a proposal to the deputy commissioners for acquiring land. Hopefully, it will start soon.”

According to the project documents, the Hatirjheel-Rampura-Banasree-Amulia-Demra Expressway is a 13.5km four-lane controlled access toll highway, including 9.4km of elevated sections, from Rampura point of Hatirjheel to the junction with the National Highway N1 (Chittagong Road) and National Highway N2 (Sylhet Road).

Around 30,000 vehicles are expected to use the highway each day in 2025.

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