Bangabandhu Tunnel: A Game Changing Infrastructure In Connectivity – OpEd


Bangladesh is experiencing a revolutionary transformation in communication infrastructure through the inauguration of a series of megaprojects. The Padma Bridge, the Metro Rail, each project is a unique and unprecedented instance of infrastructure in the History of Bangladesh. Another architectural wonder Karnafuli Tunnel, named after `Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel’ is yet to be opened. Bangladesh will eventually enter the tunnel era through the inauguration of Bangabandhu Tunnel, which has been built beneath the river Karnafuli.

The Karnafuli tunnel, which will cost approximately BDT 11 thousand crores, will connect Anwara Upazila on the other side of the Karnafuli  river with Chittagong’s main city. The first and only underwater tunnel in Bangladesh is being implemented with joint funding of the governments of Bangladesh and China (G2G). The project has been allocated BDT 5,913 crore by the Exim Bank of China while the Bangladesh government is funding the rest. The tunnel is 9.3 km long, of which the underwater part is approximately 3.4 km. Vehicles will be transported through a four-lane tunnel constructed at a depth of 18 to 31 meters under the Karnafuli river.

Following a technical survey in 2013, the government approved the `Construction of multi-lane road tunnel under Karnafuli river’ project. The next year, Bangladesh and China have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Beijing on construction of a tunnel under the Karnafuli river. On June 30, 2015, Bangladesh Government and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) signed the contract for the construction. President of China Xi Jinping and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated the works of the tunnel in 2016.

New dimension in Economics and Communication:

Communication and transportation in Chittagong, the commercial center of Bangladesh, will undergo a revolution as the tunnel will directly link Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar. By reducing the distance between Dhaka and Chittagong, the tunnel will turn the southern portion of the port city into a business zone. The both banks of Karnafuli river would be developed as “one city two towns”, like China’s Shanghai city, where the eastern and western parts are connected. Shanghai, China’s largest and most populous city, as well as the country’s industrial and commercial center, is divided by the Huangpu, a tributary of the Changjiang River that is linked by tunnels built into the river. Similar to Shanghai, which today possesses the busiest and one of the largest seaports in the world, Chittagong’s port city and Anwara Upazila are situated geographically across the Karnafuli River.

The Chittagong metropolis is significant in terms of trade and commerce due to the country’s primary seaport, although it has only spread to one side of the Karnafuli. The port was unable to extend across the Karnafuli river due to lack of road link. As a result of the decline in economic activities, such as trade and transport, Anwara on the other side of the river was underdeveloped. Opening the tunnel would resolve the problem and the port city won’t be limited to just one bank of the river. Therefore, Chittagong port’s economic importance will increase as commercial opportunities expand.

The south bank of the Karnafuli river is situated in the Anwara Upazila, where a 760-acre industrial zone is being constructed. The economic zone has already attracted several overseas firms. on the south bank of the Karnaphuli, businesses have undertaken initiatives to build at least 100 large industrial units in various sectors – apparels, shipbuilding, edible oil, fish processing, steel, cement, among others. Some of them have already initiated their production. Construction of some hospitals, restaurants, and hotel-motel complexes are undergoing. Thanks to these firms’ increased productivity, a sizable section of the population is now able to obtain employment. New business opportunities have surfaced not only in Anwara or Karnafuli but also in the entire region from Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar,

Moreover, vehicles will reach Cox’s Bazar and South Chittagong without entering the port city. Travelers will be able to reach Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban swiftly through the tunnel using Outer Ring Road. Currently, vehicles must cross Chittagong City to travel over three bridges, including Shah Amanat Bridge over the Karnafuli River. However, as the tunnel is located outside the metropolis, Chittagong city will no longer need to be crossed. As a result, Chittagong city’s traffic will lessen. The tunnel will reduce the distance between Dhaka-Chattogram and Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar. Moreover, the tunnel will facilitate road communication between the deep seaport under construction at Matarbari and the rest of the country.

The tunnel will link the Asian Highway network. Through this route, goods can be moved directly across the border between India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. In addition to improving Chittagong port efficiency, the tunnel will considerably improve cross border trade by road.

Furthermore, the Marine Drive Road from Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar, would not be efficient without first passing through the Bangabandhu Tunnel. This would open up a window of opportunities for tourism in South Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar. The tunnel would make it simple to reach Parki Beach, which is located in Chittagong’s Anwara. Chittagong residents will need 15 minutes to travel to Parki Beach if the tunnel is opened. 

Why not a bridge but a tunnel?

The 3.4-kilometer tunnel costs more than a bridge. Therefore, it could seem wasteful to spend more money on tunnels rather than bridges. However, given its geographic location, there are many reasons for building a Tunnel.

The location of the Bangabandhu Tunnel on the Karnafuli, known as the lifeline of port city Chattogram is practically at the river’s mouth where it falls into the sea. Till today, there are 3 bridges over the river and all of these are situated significantly higher upstream, therefore the water velocity is lower than the estuary. But a bridge at the site of Bangabandhu Tunnel was needed for a long time to connect with South Chittagong. Although various attempts have been taken, none of those were effective because of the topographical features of the area.

The river’s stream could shift as a result of sediment buildup if its navigability is decreased due to the bridge or any other natural cause. Moreover, in order to build underground piles for bridge building, piles must be inserted into rivers. But according to experts, there is a chance that the ground could move out from under the pillars of the bridge there because of the Karnafuli river’s intense currents. Additionally, the Chittagong port will be seriously threatened by river siltation brought on by the bridge. To avoid these problems, tunnel is the only solution to connect Chittagong port with the south bank of the river.

The longest tunnel in Asia, Bangabandhu Tunnel, is another iconic piece of Bangladeshi architecture after Padma Bridge. In addition to direct economic prosperity, it will thrive the nation to the international community. The government must take the necessary steps to expand the trade and business by leveraging it. If the project fails to facilitate a business-friendly environment, including attracting investors and having adequate management, it will be nothing more than a `white elephant.’

Masfi-ul-Ashfaq Nibir is a Dhaka-based independent researcher and analyst. His research interests include foreign policy and diplomacy, international peace and conflict resolution, and political economy. Masfi-ul-Ashfaq often contributes to several newspapers and blogs. He can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *