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Thursday, September 5, 2019

Tunnel Roads – the next phase of transport system in Bhutan

Department of Roads as parent agency for highways in Bhutan under Ministry of Works and Human Settlement has galloped a long journey since the start of first highway construction in early 1960s. Beyond highways, in the 11th fifth year plan, department was ushered responsibilities for construction and maintenance of whooping networks of Geog Connectivity (GC) roads. At the inception of 12th fifth year plan and thus far, almost all surface roads construction and improvement were completed; overall the adequacy of road networks have been accomplished under the dynamic farsighted leadership of the department. After successful completion of blacktopping of 182 GC roads out of 205, those roads were handed over to Local Government (LG), leaving the department mandated to focus only on highways.

Nonetheless, journey of further enhancement and development of transportation system in the country must travel far to the world standards for enhancement of socio-economic development.

For that matter, as reflected in the current plan document, the next stage for the department to get engage is in tunneling and underground space engineering works. Best for the country like ours that is geologically challenging and mountainous, start of tunneling works shall gear the department in accomplishing the mission statement of reducing travel time.

The first ever underground/tunnel road (1.50 km) (Video published by Bhutan Tube)was constructed on Tsirang – Wangdue National Highway by Punatshangchu Hydro project II and successfully opened to traffic on 25th June 2014.

Since the start of hydro-power plants construction to meet the target to harness 20000 MW by 2020, Bhutanese in general have seen tunnel construction in hydro sector only.
Highway tunnel on Tsirang - Wangdue National Highway. Photo from PHPA-II website
Tunneling roads will not only help in reducing travel time, it will also reduce the current setback triggered by unusual monsoon. Though the initial construction expenditure will be huge as compared to surface roads, operation and maintenance costs will be minimum; thereby, the best judgment to invest in the tunneling works considering the Life Cycle Costing and also the climate change effect on the roads such as now will be meager.

For that matter, it is time for the government and department in particular to start groundwork for the tunneling and underground space engineering knowledge. Ultimately, with tunnel roads that are best suited for country like ours, transportation system will be in the next level.

Therefore, as an introductory process to tunneling, short course on tunneling is scheduled on 24th to 27th September at Druk Hotel, Thimphu. Dr. Manoj Verman, Tunneling and Rock Engineering Expert, President, Indian National Group of ISRM (International Society for Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering) is organizing the course. The course fee is Nu. 17,000.00 (Seventeen thousand only).

I aspire, interested engineers of the nation would participate in the short course to originate light in future tunnel roads and underground space engineering.

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