18 Jan 2019
Bangladesh's First PPP Project Set to Be Delivered Via BRI Backing
Essential US$364 million Dhaka bypass to be built and operated by Chengdu-based Sichuan Road and Bridge Group.
Bangladesh's first major public private partnership (PPP) project has secured backing as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China's ambitious international infrastructure and trade facilitation programme. Under the terms of the recently announced deal, the Sichuan Road and Bridge Group – the state-owned, Chengdu-headquartered civil engineering giant – is to work with the Bangladeshi government on the planned expansion of the 48-km Dhaka Bypass Expressway from two lanes to four.
It is envisaged that the increased capacity of the expressway – which currently connects the conurbations of Joydevpur, Debugram, Vulta and Modonpur – will provide a huge boost to the logistics networks linking the industrial belts ringing Dhaka, the country's principal city, to the Chattogram seaport and the northeast Sylhet region, while wholly bypassing the capital itself. The other partners signed up to help deliver on this vision are Unique Dream Consultant, a local educational body, and Shamim Enterprise, a leading public-transport provider.
According to the Asian Development Bank, the institution that conducted the initial viability study on the project in 2012, the enhanced bypass will play a major role in alleviating the traffic congestion that currently plagues the capital, while enhancing road network connectivity. It is also seen as a key means of meeting the added transport demands occasioned by the country's increased economic activity, while also playing a role in reducing urban CO2 emissions and meeting air-pollution control targets.
As determined by a supplementary PPP project feasibility study, conducted on behalf of the Bangladesh government by Canadian management consultancy WSP, the project will also provide a much-needed arterial connection between the industrial zones north and northeast of Dhaka. Ultimately, it will also feed into a number of the country's existing national highways.
Under the terms of the agreement, work on the expansion of the bypass will start within nine months, with completion estimated for 2022, following a three-year construction period. In return for financing, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the enhanced road network, the joint-venture consortium will then enjoy a 25-year concession, allowing it to operate the bypass as a toll-road, the country's first such pay-as-you-go highway.
Welcoming the Chinese investment in the project, Nazrul Islam, Secretary of the Bangladeshi Road Transport and Highways Division, the body responsible for government oversight of the venture, said: "Upgrading the existing road to an expressway is a very expensive process and one that could not be solely funded by the state.
"Under the terms of the PPP arrangement, which has made the whole thing possible, the government is only required to put in some $27 million. Thankfully, the remainder of the required $364 million is being provided by our joint-venture partners."
The bypass is just the latest of a number of BRI-related Bangladesh road projects to be given the official green light. Construction on an earlier agreed development – a 55-km six-lane highway straddling the Padma River and connecting Shibchar, Madaripu, Bhanga and Faridpur on one side with Dhaka on the other – is already well under way. An ambitious undertaking, the project includes 16 culverts, seven small bridges, two large bridges, two flyovers and a railway over-bridge.
Construction on the $800 million, 8-km road-link between Jatrabari and Bhanga – the country's first express highway – is also at an advanced stage, as is a similar project linking Shibchar and Bhang, two of Dhaka's more outlying districts, which is due for completion later this year.
Among the growing number of Chinese developers currently active in the country are the Anhui Construction Engineering Company, the China Harbour Engineering Company and the China Major Bridge Engineering Company.
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Dhaka