Jammu and Kashmir will soon get all-weather road connectivity with some traffic flow being possible as early as this winter, according to the ministry of road transport. The key strategic Zoji La tunnel project will contribute to the development of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh, the ministry said.
At present, connectivity between Srinagar and Kargil is cut off by road for at least six months due to intense snowfall on the Zoji La pass, 15 km from Sonamarg.
The prestigious tunnel project in the Himalayas is peculiar due to the atmospheric and hard terrain conditions. It is being constructed in the EPC mode. An engineering marvel, it will be the first-of-its-kind in such a geographical zone.
“The entire area between Srinagar and Sonamarg is prone to avalanche, due to which road connectivity is majorly impacted. It makes the availability of such a facility even more important,” said Brigadier GS Kambo, executive director, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL).
After the construction of the tunnel, distance between Srinagar and Ladakh will not only be reduced from 40 km to 13 km from Baltal to Minamarg, but it will also reduce travel time by 90 minutes.
The length of the tunnel is 14.15 km, which is India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. Several bridges are being constructed in this route and the work is on at a brisk pace.
An alternative route for vehicular traffic, especially for the army, would have been expensive and strategically unviable being close to Pakistan and China borders.
All-weather road connectivity will not only benefit the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but also make it possible for the army to travel smoothly between Kashmir and Ladakh.
The project was proposed long ago but the first part of the implementation has been realised now. A connecting tunnel from Z-Morh on National Highway 1 to Zoji La tunnel will be constructed, especially between Sonamarg and Kargil.
Road and transport minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday will be examining the progress of the construction of the tunnel. He will visit tunnels 1 and 2 at Nilgrar site. The first tunnel measures 435 m each, while the second one measures 1.95 km each. Both tunnels form a part of the 18-km approach road to Zoji La.
The Z-Morh tunnel project, which will cost Rs 2,300 crore, has a 5.5-km approach as well. This is a difference of Rs 300 crore since 2018, when the construction of the project began. There is a lane that has been added. Zoji La tunnel is being constructed at the cost of Rs 4,600 crore (contracted cost) along with 13.5-km approach road. The project also has three major bridges and minor bridges.
Brigadier Kambo said, “In 2018, the transport ministry took a major decision to see the project completed in the next three to four years and, thereby, in October 2020, the first blast was conducted at the site. The original deadline for the project is December 20 to 26, but we are confident we will finish before that.”
Megha Engineering Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) is constructing this tunnel to serve the transport sector of Jammu and Kashmir. The infrastructure giant was instrumental in completing Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project, which is said to be world’s largest engineering marvel, and is also working on the ambitious Polavaram project in Andhra Pradesh.