Four lane highway project on schedule but dust chokes up local residents and offices

Thimphu Thromde office aims to complete the major components of the Nu 150 million four-lane road project spanning from the road near the Bhutan Telecom Limited head office till Jungshina Bridge by the end of May 2021. 

The Project Engineer, Thimphu Thromde, Ngawang Tashi, said project is on track with works progressing smoothly. Thromde could work effectively for only about eight months due to the two lockdowns. The walls and earthwork are set to be complete by the end of April.

Recently the public raised issues on the ill effects of the construction works on their health and safety. More and more people are complaining of breathing in the heavy dust from the construction sites of the four-lane project causing bronchitis and asthma attacks.

A child pneumonia case has also been reported. The mainly affected residents of Zilukha and Hejo voiced that just two water tankers are not enough to spray water along the long stretch of the road as the water quickly dries and dust rises up in no time, especially during the sunny days.

Residents living near the highway find a thick layer of dust even inside their homes though they keep windows shut. Some have resorted to even taping their windows with cello tape but the dust is so much that it still makes its way in.

The tanks also make only around one to two trips in a day when close to 8 to 10 trips are required according to local residents. Thimphu Thromde had promised to implemented dust control measures but that has not worked.

The dust from the site is also seen floating down to the Tashichhodzong which is a VIP area with important offices. Even Judges in the Supreme and High Court in Hejo complained of the dust. A senior source told this paper that the Supreme Court has called on Thimphu Thromde to expedite the work. 

People added that the delays in the project has also caused inconveniences with the traffic flow.

The Project Engineer said the project is not delayed. He said the people are assuming that the project started two years ago. He clarified that before the four-lane project, there were already two projects on going in 2020, the water project from Supreme Court till BTL and later the sewerage project from Zilukha to BTL. Before completing the two projects, the commencement of the four-lane road was started in May 2020.

The project duration is of one year so Thromde is supposed to complete the project by May, 2021. However, Ngawang Tashi said they still have around one month to complete the project, even though almost three months were lost due to the two lockdowns.

He said the two lockdowns in September and December last year happened during the prime time of their works, like wall construction and earthwork. And the ideal time for earthwork is during the dry season.

The Thimphu Thromde is targeting to complete the walls and earthwork by April after which the pavement work and blacktopping works can be done before the monsoon.

The 20 meters high walls are halfway complete. Daily site inspections are carried out by the Thromde officials to expedite works with the private contractors.

According to the Project Engineer, although the Thromde tried to mitigate the disruption to traffic flow and other inconveniences, however, much inconveniences has come about directly or indirectly. In order to ease traffic congestion in the area, the Thromde starts their works after 9:30 am, and similarly in the evening after the office hours. Weekends are reserved for construction works that require a halt on vehicle movement.

In order to take care of the increasing dust and air pollution due to the project, Thromde office has allocated two water tankers to spray water along the roads in the morning and evening times.

The four-lane road will have street lights on both sides of the roads and footpath to make it pedestrian friendly throughout the stretch.

Currently, there are four private contractors working on the project, and around 100 Bhutanese workers are on ground. Most of the workers are from the tourism background. For now, there are no issues regarding the shortage of workers for the project. The Government of India and the Gross National Happiness Commission have funded the project.

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