Traffic snarls choke Nagdhunga-Naubise road, but alternative routes are not readyThere is an immediate need to find a solution to congestion along the main gateway to Kathmandu, officials say.
A seemingly unending traffic jam along the Nagadhunga-Naubise road section on Friday resulted in the death of a man who was travelling to Kathmandu for treatment.
Officials say, the tragedy is yet another poignant reminder of the country’s poor road infrastructure and underscores an urgent need to build new roads as heavy vehicular traffic and potholed roads are hindering people movement and timely delivery of goods and services to and from the Kathmandu Valley and beyond.
The Nagdhunga-Naubise road serves as the main gateway to Kathmandu for vehicles coming from the east, west and southern parts of the country as other alternatives are in equally poor conditions.
According to the traffic police, more than 8,000 vehicles pass the Nagdhunga-Naubise road every day. The Nagdhunga-Naubise road is a part of the Prithvi Highway, which too is increasingly keeping up with heavy traffic as the road has remained a two-lane roadway too long. In recent days, people had to face 12 hours of traffic jams in this section, mostly due to broken-down vehicles that occupy nearly half the road.
Rabindra Kumar Poudel, a spokesperson for the traffic police, said that vehicles on Saturday were moving normally but at a slower pace after the broken-down vehicles that caused Friday’s jam were removed from the road.
Government officials and experts say a short-term measure of removing vehicles with mechanical problems and barring 10-wheeler trucks from the road would not solve the issue of congestion.
“The latest incident of death of a patient on the way due to a prolonged jam has highlighted the need for an alternative to this road,” said Shivahari Sapkota, a spokesperson for the Department of Roads.
A number of road projects including Kathmandu-Nijagadh Fast Track, Kanti Rajpath connecting Kathmandu to Hetuada, and Kathmandu-Hetauda Tunnel Road have been planned as alternative routes, but the progress in all of them remains poor, according to the roads department.
Although the BP Highway connecting Kathmandu with Sindhuli and Bardibas was proposed as an alternative route, it has failed to live up to its promise because it is just a single lane road, according to Sapkota.
When it comes to the expressway, the government in August 2017 handed over this project to the Nepal Army with a mandate of completing it within four years. But it took the Cabinet six months to approve the detailed project report!
The government had handed over the project to the Army after an effort to develop the project through international bidders failed.
Once completed, the 76km expressway is expected to reduce traffic on the Prithvi Highway, substantially, since it would handle most of the traffic from eastern Nepal.
According to Nepal Army’s Spokesperson Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, the force plans to complete the project within four years after the work starts.
“We have planned to call bids for pre-qualification before Dashain and tenders will be invited for competition among pre-qualified contractors after two or three months,” he told the Post.
Meanwhile, there has been only limited progress on the private sector-initiated Kathmandu-Hetauda tunnel road. After signing an agreement with the government in May 2013 to develop the project under a public-private-people-partnership model or “4P model”, the project is still a non-starter as the developer—Nepal Purwadhar Bikash Company Limited—has failed to generate resources for the project.
According to Nepal Purwadhar Bikash’s Director Subash Chandra Thakuri, the company has been able to raise only Rs330 million against the need of Rs37 billion. The company last year signed a joint development agreement with the Chinese company—Power China—and prepared a fresh detailed design of the project, almost doubling the cost.
“As a foreign company is entering into the business, it is up to the government to convince the Chinese company to make an investment with assurances of return,” said Thakuri.
With minimal traffic movement, the 92km Kanti Rajpath has been a dead road. “Vehicle movement is seen only during the winter season to some extent but on other occasions, it largely wears a deserted look,” said Sapkota of the roads department.
He said the department believes that the traffic would increase once the ongoing improvement work is completed.
Even after these roads are constructed, experts say there should be alternative roads for vehicles coming from the west.
“An alternative highway or widening of the Prithvi Highway or construction of Kathmandu-Pokhara railway could solve the current traffic jam problem,” said Surya Raj Acharya, an expert on transport infrastructure.
However, he said there have been some efforts to ease traffic movement, especially after vehicles start crossing Nagdhunga.
On September 23, the Roads Department signed a contract agreement with Japan’s Hazama Ando Corporation to develop the 2.7km Tunnel Road from Nagdhunga to Sisnekhola of Dhading.
According to officials, the contractor will start work on the project after the Dashain and Tihar festivals. The project is being built with Japanese assistance. It is expected to significantly reduce travel time on the winding hill road section.
The government also plans to widen the Prithvi Highway and it has been holding discussions with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
According to Arjun Jung Thapa, chief of the foreign cooperation section of the roads department, discussions are underway with the World Bank for widening the Road from Nagdhunga to Mugling. The government plans to expand it by adding another lane, wherever possible.
“Due to geological conditions, we cannot open a new lane on the wall side of half the road,” said Thapa. “But we are working to create some space in some parts where broken-down vehicles can be towed to make way for other vehicles.”
According to the roads department, a detailed project report has already been prepared. It will cost Rs16 billion to complete the works.
“We are planning to invite tenders this year as per the understanding with the World Bank,” said Thapa.
The government is also preparing to widen the Abukhaireni-Pokhara section of Prithvi Highway with assistance from the Asian Development Bank, he added.