Eid Rush on Highways Tailback to snarl on few points
Although the highways connecting the capital with the rest of the country are in better condition than last year, people going home for Eid might face agonising delays due to tailbacks.
Hundreds of kilometres of pitted and potholed roads in all directions from the capital Dhaka have been somehow patched up over the months with emergency funds.
But there lurks the threat of lawlessness and consequent delays at many places between Dhaka and Chittagong, Mymensingh, Tangail and Barisal. Some stretches of roads are shabby where more delays are likely to cause the holidaymakers to suffer.
Our correspondents travelled by road to Chittagong and Mymensingh on Wednesday and our Barisal and Tangail correspondents filed the following reports on road conditions ahead of one of the largest festivals on the Islamic calendar.
The gruelling pain of leaving Dhaka by road starts from Gulistan.
It could take up to three hours to negotiate the five kilometres through Joy Kali Mandir, Syedabad, Jatrabari and beyond the wholesale fish market.
According to bus drivers and travellers, sometimes the chaos is so severe that it takes more time to cross this tattered and chaotic road than it takes to travel the rest of 242km distance to Chittagong.
“The rush of vehicles leaving the capital during the Eid holidays will surely turn this exit into a nightmare unless drastic steps are taken to discipline it,” said Sobhan Mollah, a bus driver on the Chittagong-Dhaka highway for 20 years.
The traffic-jam-prone spots on the highway outside Dhaka begin from Comilla-Brahmanbaria intersection in front of Moinamati Cantonment.
Hundreds of vehicles get stranded often for hours. Trucks, easy bikes, human hauliers, microbuses, rickshaws and vans are seen parked on the highway, reducing a third of the road width.
Travellers and transport workers pleaded for immediate removal of the illegal parking to ease traffic movement.
The same anarchy on the busiest highway of the country was found at Podder Bazaar, Choddogram Bazaar, Barokunda, Sitakunda, Mirersorai, Feni Bus Terminal and at the Baroiarhat Bazaar, infamous for jams.
“The regular tailbacks at Barokunda, Choddogram Bazaar, Sitakunda, Mirersorai and Baroiarhat Bazaar are mainly caused by the pockets of dilapidated road in these areas,” said Sirajuddin, owner of a departmental store at Baroiarhat intersection.
“For the last five years, the highway there has remained in a dilapidated state and tailbacks could stretch for miles on both directions,” he added.
In order to bring some discipline, the authorities recently built bus bays on the above mentioned vulnerable areas.
The idea was to separate buses from the traffic.
But as soon as the bus bays were created, CNG-run three-wheelers, rickshaws, vans and easy bikes moved in to make the bus bays their parking space.
Thanks to the unusable bus bays, the main highway has now been significantly narrowed down, creating long tailbacks to the delight of dozens of vendors selling anything from bottled water to hot puffed rice to the stranded people.
“In addition to repairing the pockets of pitted roads the government must use any means to keep the highway free from these unacceptably defiant encroachments, which is causing suffering to thousands and inflicting irreparable damage to our economy,” said Kamal Uddin, a shopkeeper at Choddogram Bazaar.
Two other traffic-jam-prone spots have recently surfaced on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
On the Gumti and Daudkandi bridges, every vehicle is forced to slow down to crawling speed to negotiate the widening gaps between the bridge segments.
This too creates tailbacks on the vulnerable bridges.
Compared to the condition of the highway last year, the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway is almost free of potholes.
Over the months emergency funds have been poured into the job of patching up the tattered highway.
The appalling state of the highway had caused an outcry throughout the country last year, forcing even pro-Awami League transport workers to cancel all bus services between the capital and Mymensingh.
The ride on the 116km-long highway is now more or less smooth, with patch-up work dotting the highway.
At places scratchy patch work, however, looks vulnerable to rain and high volume of heavy vehicles is expected to ply on it during Eid rush.
The 50km stretch from Mawna towards Mymensingh is bumpy and narrow at several places, with road-widening work and muddy diversions for construction of around half a dozen culverts.
Md Ershad, a driver who operates between Dhaka and Netrakona and Modanganj through Mymensingh, said all vehicles slowed down on the 50km stretch due to ongoing road-widening work and construction of culverts.
Md Ibrahim Hossain, a ticket counter clerk at Mohakhali Bus Terminal, said the danger during Eid rush lay in long tailbacks caused by haphazardly parked lorries.
"Last year it took 28 hours to travel from Bogra to Dhaka due to bottlenecks created by haphazardly parked vehicles,” Ibrahim said.
Abul Kalam, president of Mohakhali Bus Terminal Sharak Poribahan Owners' Association, said police and relevant district administrations must ensure smooth traffic flow in their areas along the highway.
“They have to ensure that the highway through Ashulia Baipail to Chandra and Tongi to Gazipur Chowrasta is free from haphazardly parked vehicles, illegal bazaars, shops and vendors,” Abul Kalam pleaded.
“Otherwise we are looking at increased suffering for millions of Eid holidaymakers,” he added.
Once one has successfully negotiated the notorious jams of Naya Bazar and crossed the second Buriganga bridge, then the Padma river on a ferry, one should be able to reach Bhanga smoothly.
The remaining distance to Barisal from Bhanga is 120km.
The road to Khulna and other south and southwestern regions from Bhanga is rated to be the best in the country. But turning towards Barisal could be perilous.
At least 35km of this 120km-stretch road became unusable last year due to the appearance of large potholes everywhere.
The authorities over the last few months have patched it up. But heavy downpour during the ongoing monsoon has taken its toll on the patches, hastily completed to counter the countrywide outcry of 2011.
Dipak Das, vice-president of Barisal Bus Owners Association, claimed that at least one fourth of the Barisal-Bhanga highway had again become unfit for vehicles.
“More than 30km of the highway in Barisal at Kashipur, Rahmatpur, and Ichhladi, Gournadi, and Vurghata points are now potholed and pitted dangerously,” Dipak Das added.
Shams Mokaddes, executive engineer of Roads and Highways Department Barisal, said they had already started repairing the highway and the work would be completed before the Eid rush.
Sources in the Roads and Highways Department said there were three traffic-jam-prone spots between Bhanga and Barisal.
Parking of buses, trucks, tempos, human hauliers, easy bikes, rickshaws and vans regularly causes tailbacks.
“During Eid, the on-duty traffic and police personnel are reluctant to maintain discipline as they openly extort money from all sorts of commercial transports plying the road,” said a source requesting anonymity.
As the highway snakes its way through Tekerhat, Gournadi and Bhanga, tailbacks are often created due to lawlessness.
The condition of the Dhaka-Tangail highway, the gateway to the north, has improved significantly over the months.
But indiscriminate construction of speed bumps everywhere on the highway will certainly slow down the traffic movement and cause congestion during the rush days of Eid when thousands of additional vehicles will be shuttling.
On a single stretch of 45km on the Dhaka-Tangail highway, 30 speed bumps have recently been constructed without any regard for smooth traffic flow.
Encroachments of roadside parking spaces by all sorts of vehicles and illegal shops force many vehicles to stop on the highway and create severe tailbacks.
Exit towards Tangail from the capital is also riddled with similar chaos at Ashuliya and Chandra which might take hours to cross.
The 90km distance between Dhaka and Tangail could be extremely arduous. Travellers say that crossing 45km to Chandra on the Dhaka-Tangail highway often takes up to three hours.
“It takes about an hour to cover the remaining 45km,” said a traveller hailing from Tangail.
At least an 8km stretch of road from Chandipul to Tukerbazar on the Dhaka-Sylhet-Sunamganj highway is in dilapidated condition.
The 37km road between Sylhet and Companiganj and Bholaganj is also an example of sheer negligence since there have been no effective steps to keep the road usable.
Every day at least 2,000 trucks use this road for transporting stones from the country's biggest quarry at Bholaganj.
Dhaka-Sylhet-Tamabil road is also in a bad shape. Sufferings will mount for Eid holidaymakers.