Nagdhunga tunnel plan gets bogged down in paperwork

April 12, 2019

Prahalad Rijal, The Kathmandu Post, April 12, 2019

The government’s plan to build a tunnel under the hills on the western side of the Kathmandu Valley has been delayed as the paperwork drags on.

Officials of the Roads Department said that the selection of a contractor to implement the project would take a few more weeks.

The Nagdhunga-Naubise tunnel will eliminate the need to travel the circuitous route over the Valley’s western rim, which is the main overland link between the capital and the southern plains.

Five Chinese and one Japanese firm are vying for the Rs20 billion contract.

They were shortlisted following the global bids invited by the Department of Roads last August . The department is building the 2.45-km tunnel with a soft loan from the Japanese government.

Rupak Rajbhandari, chief of the foreign aid implementation division of the Department of Roads, said that the evaluation of the financial proposals submitted by the shortlisted bidders would be completed in the next 20 days.

“The evaluation reports will be sent to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the main financer of the project, for its final approval,” he said, adding that the contract would be awarded to the lowest bidder. “The groundwork is expected to begin immediately after the contractor is appointed.”

Japan has provided a Rs15.2 billion soft loan. Its repayment period is 40 years including a grace period of 10 years when the government will not have to pay any interest or repayment instalments.

Following the end of the grace period, the government will have to pay an annual interest at the rate of 0.01 percent. Nepal and Japan signed an official development assistance loan agreement for the project in December 2016.

The Roads Department had initially planned to mobilise the contractor and begin construction work by January 2019.

However, the process of appointing the contractor was delayed, pushing back the selection date to March.

The contractor selection process still has not been concluded.

Lekhnath Gyawali, information officer at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, said that officials of the ministry and the Japan International Cooperation Agency were studying the financial proposals of the shortlisted bidders. He added that the selection process would take at least a month, but did not explain why it was taking such a long time.

The tunnel project consists of two components—a 2.45-km tunnel from Basnetchhap to Sisne Khola and a 2.6-km approach road from Basnetchhap to Thankot. The project, once completed, is expected to reduce traffic congestion on the Nagdhunga-Naubise stretch of the highway. According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, more than 70,000 people travel on more 10,000 public and private vehicles every day over the Kalanki-Nagdhunga road.

The proposed tunnel will have two 3.5-metre lanes and a 2.5-metre shoulder. It will also have LED lighting, mechanical ventilation, evacuation tunnel door and emergency telephone service. The approach road will have two bridges, toll booths and a roadside rest area for travellers. The rest area, spread over 4,650 square metres, will have parking space for nine heavy vehicles and 23 light vehicles, fast food restaurants, shops and toilets.