Highway hiccups: Will there be an end to this problem?

Traffic remained suspended on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway on Friday due to road repairing works necessitated by the frequent landslides and shooting stones being witnessed along it at many places.

The frequent closure of the road apart from troubling the travellers and inhabitants of the nearby villages, causes immense economic and business loss to the Valley. Due to its bad condition, the road has become notorious for consuming human lives in frequent accidents.

The travellers and the inhabitants of nearby villages complained that the repeated closure of the highway was taking a toll on them.

They said that even when the road remains open, the movement of the vehicles is marred by the frequent traffic jam. “I think the government is doing nothing to fix this perennial problem,” said a frequent traveller.

Many frequent travellers Greater Kashmir talked to wondered would this problem really ever come to an end. “For years now we have been hearing that the highway would be upgraded, but we wonder would we really get rid of the closures and jams that have become a recurrent theme.”

They blamed the ‘poor’ traffic management, ‘unscientific’ earth cutting at various places for four-laning and delay in construction of Qazigund-Banihal tunnel as the main reasons leading to the closures.

Sources said that even as its construction was started nine years ago, the new Qazigund-Banihal tunnel on the highway is yet to complete despite missing several deadlines. The project was envisaged to avoid frequent closure of Jawahar tunnel that leaves Kashmir Valley cut off from rest of the country.

Initially set to be completed by June 2016, the work on the Rs 2100 crore ambitious project has seen hiccups since its inception in 2011 due both to financial constraints and the concessionaire’s lethargic approach.

In 2011, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) commissioned construction of two tunnels namely Chenani-Nashri and Qazigund-Banihal along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway to reduce travel and make it motorable for all seasons.

Even as the 10.5 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel was thrown open by the end of 2018, the 8.5 km Qazigund-Banihal is still incomplete.

The excavation work inside the tunnel was completed in May 2018 and the NHAI officials had assured the government that its twin tubes would be made operational by January 2019. However the financial issues again delayed the project, sources said.

“The work on the project remained at halt for around a year for want of fund transfer to the executing agency,” an NHAI official had told Greater Kashmir recently.

He said the delay has resulted into further cost escalation of the project.

However, Project Manager NHAI, Gaurav Gopal, had said that work, which was stopped due to lockdown in the wake of Covid19, “has resumed now.”

The tunnel with two parallel tubes being constructed by Indian infrastructure major Navayuga Engineering Co (NEC) would reduce the distance between two sides by over 16 kms. Each tube will be seven meters (23 ft) wide with two lanes.

“The 1000 meter bench lining on either tube of the tunnel is still pending,” the NEC official said.

He said out of the approved amount of Rs 576 crore, Rs 270 cr have already been released in their favour. “Only after the lining is completed, the finishing work can be undertaken,” an official said.