The Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel road which was initiated six years back does not look like it will see the light at the end anytime soon.
The obstacle is not just the mountains but the budget. No budget has been mobilized yet for the construction of the tunnel road.
“The cost of building a tunnel is astronomically higher as compared to roads,” said Tempa Thinley, Executive Engineer of Department of Roads (DOR), to which the work has been delegated.
With no committed budget for the construction of Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel road, it is impossible to frame the deadline for the completion of the tunnel.
Meanwhile, DOR has proposed the construction of the tunnel as the flagship agenda for the upcoming 12th Five Year Plan.
As per DOR estimates, a kilometer of tunnel road will cost over Nu 600mn against Nu 31mn over a double-lane road.
But the tunnel roads are said to be more environment-friendly compared to building roads.
The 10.5km Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel road is estimated to cost a total of Nu 4.7bn.
The two proposed portals for the Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel road are from Yusipang-Nabesa(Nahi) and Semtokha-Nabesa.
Talking about the challenges of the project, Tempa Thinley said that the tunnel DOR is proposing is a first of its kind project. “The department does not have such kind of experience in handling a project like this since it lacks technical expertise in the field of highway tunneling,” he said, adding that to overcome the challenges it is necessary to develop human resource in the field of tunnel engineering prior to starting the project.
The feasibility study of the road tunnel between Thimphu to Wangdue was completed by Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) Norway in collaboration with the Department of Geology and Mines in Bhutan in 2014.
According to Tempa Thinley, NGI has recommended more investigations including drilling along the tunnel alignment to verify some assumed rock mass conditions along the alignment.
“The cost might increase due to the geological problems that are expected on the Semtokha-Nabesa portal.”
The Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel road is part of a road master plan, a 20-year program, to expand the road network in the country through realignments, tunneling and new constructions.
Ten tunnel roads were proposed in the road master plan with objectives to shorten travel time, bring down road maintenance costs and minimize vehicle operating and transportation costs
Though the construction of tunnel roads will prove costly, the costs could be recovered in the long run through saving on fuel and transportation costs, said Tempa Thinley.
The existing Thimphu-Wangdue road is narrow with sharp bends, giving low-driving speed.
“Both Thimphu and Wangdue are fast growing areas in the country which has resulted in an increase in traffic density along the existing road,” said Tempa Thinley.
The construction of Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel is expected to shorten the 70km-long road by 35-37km and ultimately save travel time.
The tunnel road project was initiated in 2011.
Jigme Wanghen from Thimphu