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‘Expressway project will test army’s capability’

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Sep 21, 2017-The construction of a long-planned expressway linking Kathmandu and the Tarai will be a test of the Nepal Army’s capability as it will be an engineering achievement, experts said on Wednesday. 

The project has been on the drawing boards of successive governments since 1996 when expressions of interest were first invited to implement the project. 

The government’s recent decision to award the project to the Nepal Army, which has zero experience in building superhighways, has raised many an eyebrow. The 76-km expressway is estimated to cost Rs112 billion.

Speakers at a meeting of the parliamentary Development Committee on Wednesday expressed a whole spectrum of views.

Former government secretary Bharati Prasad Sharma said that it was surprising that the project had been given to the army by sidelining the Department of Roads which has a team of well experienced engineers.

“This shows that the Nepal government has tremendous trust that the army can deliver,” said Sharma, former secretary of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works. 

“It may not be a good idea to involve the army in infrastructure development, but the government thinks that there are no other options,” he said. “The government is optimistic that the army can deliver, and that it can complete the task without time and cost overruns,” said Sharma. 

Lawmakers said the government’s sudden decision to award the project to the army was prompted by its disgust over a commission and corruption-plagued system that has kept the project lingering for the last two decades. 

The proposed Kathmandu-Tarai expressway will vastly improve connectivity and enhance the efficiency and safety of road transport between the Capital and the southern plains. It will cut journey times from more than 5 hours to 1 hour.

The expressway will serve as a key national highway system, helping to promote trade and development in landlocked Nepal. “The four-lane expressway will act as a transit point linking China and India,” said Major General Yogendra Bahadur Khand of the Nepal Army Engineering Division. “That’s why the project is deemed to be of strategic importance.” 

The project is expected to create huge fuel savings as it will slash the travel distance by nearly 160 km. There are no exact calculations, but officials of the Department of Roads estimate that fuel savings will amount to Rs16 billion annually, based on 2016 traffic figures. 

Moreover, the expressway will provide a faster transit to support another key project, a modern international airport in Nijgadh, which is expected to be the biggest airport in South Asia in terms of area. 

On May 4, the government had formally handed over the project’s responsibility to the army, putting an end to all political controversy. It has been given four years to complete the project.

The project was engulfed in controversy after the Sushil Koirala-led government assigned an Indian consortium to carry out a feasibility study. Subsequently, the KP Oli administration decided to construct it with domestic resources. The project ran into controversy again after the then deputy prime minister Bimalendra Nidhi floated the idea that the project should be given to an Indian builder.

Kewal Prasad Bhandari, joint secretary at the Finance Ministry, said that the government’s decision to entrust the project to the army was guided by expectations that financial transparency would be maintained and rules would be followed. However, he expressed dissatisfaction over the army’s move to set up 10 base camps at different locations to implement the project. 

“We have already seen that setting up base camps attracts shops, trade activities and human settlements along the highway, and they remain there permanently,” he said. “The expressway project should not result in settlements and trade activities nearby. As the project is being carried out by the army, there should be zero mistakes.” 

Government officials said that entrusting the task to the army would also ensure that the environment is protected and resources are used to the maximum.

Major General Khand said they would be appointing international contractors to take over special project component works like tunnel and large bridges. “We are close to calling for global bids to appoint international contractors and consultants who will look after special components separately.”

PROJECT DETAILS

  • Asian Highway ‘primary class’. Primary class refers to access-controlled highways. Mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians will not be allowed to enter the access-controlled highway in order to ensure traffic safety and high running speed of automobiles.

  • The carriageway will have four lanes. 

  • The expressway will be 25 metres wide in the plains and 23 metres wide in the hills. 

  • The designed minimum speed is 65 km per hour and the maximum speed is 120 km per hour.

  • Under terrain classification, the maximum vertical gradient (slope) will be 4 percent in the plains and 5 percent in the hills.  

  • There will be a 1.35-km tunnel starting at Gangatee and ending at Ratamate in Thingan, Makwanpur.

  • There will be 99 large, major and minor bridges. The total length of the bridges will be 9.06 km. Some of the bridges will be up to 70 metres high. Discussions are underway whether the proposed height of the bridges is advisable in a quake-prone country. 

(Source: Nepal Army)

15 days to conclude DPR purchasing negotiations

The parliamentary Development Committee on Wednesday directed the government to complete purchasing negotiations for the detailed project report (DPR) of the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway with the Indian consortium which prepared it within 15 days. 

The House panel said that the cost of the DPR should be accurate and realistic. It has also told the government to reassess the project cost after obtaining the DPR and submit it to the committee. 

The government has formed an expert committee led by Birendra Bahadur Deuja, former tourism secretary and director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, to assess the valuation of the document.  

The Nepal Army, which has been entrusted with the responsibility of constructing the 76-km expressway, said that it could not expedite the project without the DPR. Five months have passed since the government assigned the project to the army. “We are bound by time. But as of now, we don’t have any documents,” said Major General Yogendra Bahadur Khand of the army’s Engineering Division. “The design and drawing of the project is crucial and it cannot be done without the DPR,” he told lawmakers. “We have targeted completing the project design within nine months.” 

Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Bir Bahadur Balayar said that the Deuja-led committee was expected to submit its report within two weeks. An Indian consortium consisting of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) Transportation Networks, IL&FS Engineering and Construction and Suryavir Infrastructure Construction had prepared the DPR.

Published: 21-09-2017 08:41

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