With a spate of eye-catching development projects underway, is Chittagong finally set to meet all the hype?
It may still be in the early stages, but work to construct an elevated expressway for Port City Chittagong, the would-be commercial capital of the country, is clearly on in full swing.
The idea is for the EE to facilitate smooth communication along an 18-kilometre route running from the historic Lalkhan Bazaar to the Shah Amanat International Airport.
Yet nagging issues persist in preventing the smooth progress towards completion of the project that was fast-tracked at first. The Chittagong Development Authority, Chittagong's equivalent of Rajuk, under whom the project is being implemented, has already suggested it may fail to meet its 2020 deadline.
Work commenced shortly after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on a campaign-like tour of the region, made it part of an unprecedented 'development package' offered to Chittagongians ahead of the 11th parliamentary election held in 2018.
Local businessmen, and people in general express great excitement and optimism regarding the potential impact of this single infrastructure project. Some of them believe Chittagong will be transformed into "a world-class city" once the expressway opens to the public.
Once the nearby designated economic zones of Mirsarai and and Anwara are up and running at full tilt, using Ctg Port to trade and bring in supplies, they believe Chittagong is bound to be recognised as one of the most important port cities in the world.
'Chadtgaiyas', as they like to be known, believe their time has finally come. Having missed out on one or two waves of development in the past, this time they are determined to be central figures who lead the change.
The prime minister was back in Chittagong to formally inaugurate the construction work on January 30, even though the work had been ongoing for a good few months already.
Visiting the construction site this week, our correspondent found that about 60 pillars have been piled so far. Besides, soil tests have been completed on 450 spots stretching from Lalkhan Bazaar to Barik Building area.
Meanwhile, urban planners suggested preparing alternative roads before implementing the project as some extremely busy areas like Agrabad, the EPZ area, Ports and Customs will be rendered inaccessible during the time of construction in their respective area.
Jahirul Alam Dovash, the present chairman of the Chittagong Development Authority, said the project is being implemented at a cost of TK 3250 crore, making it the city's largest development project till date.
"It will reduce the sufferings of commuters. A journey that currently takes two-and-a half hours will see two hours wiped off the road," Jahirul Alam promised.
According to CDA, a Chinese company named Max-Ranken Joint Venture was tasked with the responsibility to complete the construction of the rest of the project at a cost of TK 2854 crore. A tender was floated for the purpose inviting proposals.
It should be mentioned that 10 companies filed their proposals to bag the project. After scrutiny of their proposals by CDA, Max-Rankin was selected. The proposal Max-Rankin submitted incurred the lowest cost for the exchequer. But there were murmurs surrounding the tender process alleging that it was 'not completed following international standard'.
Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industries president Mahbubul Alam said after completing the construction project, container-handling capacity of Chittagong Port will also be doubled in the next five years. He sees the port and the country thriving, hand in hand, in 5 years' time.
He also lamented that foreign buyers don't want to come to Chittagong due to a reputation for poor communication options inside the city. "They get stuck in traffic for three to four hours if they want to just go to the industrial area from the airport," Mahbubul complained.
"The situation is bound to improve once the expressway starts operating," he added. Mahbubul also made it a point to thank the prime minister, for what he called "the largest single project in the history of Chattogram".
While the EE did enjoy that distinction for a period, it wasn't long before another component of Chittagong's development package emerged to eclipse it - the spectacular Karnaphuli River Tunnel, a 3.4 kilometer-long, 10 meter-wide tunnel under the river that promises to be another transformative addition to the Port City's infrastructure, at a cost of almost Tk 10,000 crore.
Chadtgaiyas aren't complaining.
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