It was time-saving as the highway was redesigned in a much-straightened line, successfully making a 70-km detour redundant
Some two decades ago when a new two-lane national highway was developed with the World Bank financing the Dhaka-Sylhet Road construction, it ushered in a new era for passengers frequenting National Highway 2.
It was time-saving as the highway (N2) was redesigned in a much-straightened line, successfully making a 70-km detour (Moulvibazar part) redundant. Road quality was good and traffic was much thinner compared to what it is today.
Over these two decades, with traffic on the N2 increasing manifold, the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway started choking, earning a notorious label for itself as one of the world’s most road accident-prone national highways.
Open-backed trucks with tons of heavy metals, vans with emergency supplies, passenger buses and private sedans and SUVs – all jostle together, compete with each other, in attempts to overtake each other at high speed around blind corners, missing oncoming traffic by inches.
Three-wheelers, manually-driven rickshaws and push-vans all are there plying on the highway – despite a never-enforced ban – testing the patience of people on the driving seats of all these heavy vehicles in rush hours.
Roadside bazaars are all along the highway, with sellers and buyers jaywalking, crossing roads at random – the perfect recipe for mishaps.
Millions waiting to be invested in new Sylhet industries
People using the country’s second most important highway keep wondering when the N2 will get widened, when the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway will turn into a four-lane road, and when there will be service roads steering clear of the low-speed vehicles from moving dangerously on the main highway.
After years of wrangling over who is going to finance and who is going to develop the long-overdue road, the government has finally floated tenders seeking to roll out nearly Tk17,000 crore for building a 210-km stretch N2 with four lanes and two service roads on both sides all through.
The Roads and Highways Department has sought bids by June 14 for work on the first 53 km stretch of the 210-km road development programme. Although, it is still uncertain when the tenders for other components will be floated and how long it will take to complete the whole work order giving process.
Official sources have hinted that it is highly unlikely that physical road construction work will begin until early next year.
Earlier, the government’s economic affairs body gave a go-ahead to the N2 four-lane project back in February this year with a completion deadline – December 2026.
The news comes as a relief for not only the millions of people living in four districts of Sylhet Division but also for hundreds of entrepreneurs who have invested heavily in land and factories on the entire Habiganj stretch of the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway.
Millions of dollars are waiting to be rolled out for a massive industrialization process centring on the government-allocated industrial zones in greater Sylhet.
Why the delay?
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Bangladesh visit in 2016, Beijing and Dhaka struck as many as 27 deals involving Chinese aid to a volume in excess of $21 billion.
Construction of a six-lane (including the service roads) Dhaka-Sylhet Highway was part of that bilateral cooperation package.
Unfortunately, in subsequent years a Chinese company that was thought to be a potential builder for this road work eventually got kicked out following a curious case of bribery accusation.
Later, the government got Tk13,000 crore worth of financing support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), with the rest being borne by the Bangladesh government itself.
In the process of such delays, the budget for this work --- which was calculated to be less than Tk10,000 crore in 2017-18 --- has now escalated to Tk17,000 crore, again making it one of the costliest road construction works in the country.