YASIR HABIB KHAN
LAHORE – The long awaited project of Lahore Ring Road got a new lease of life after PML-N took charge of the province. But as the new government takes up the project with essential changes, its cost has gone up exorbitantly. When the project started in 1992, the cost of six-lane road with 77 kilometer length was just Rs 7 billion. Now the Ring Road with 6 lanes stretching out to 43 kilometres comes at the cost of Rs 85 billion while the same road with77 km will cost approximately Rs 150 billion
Meanwhile, the project showed the sign of life again when PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif showed keen interest in the project. He has already received the briefing thrice during the last month from all the departments concerned involved in the construction of road.
Sources privy to the development revealed that PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif had directed the heads of Lahore Development Authority, Punjab Management Unit, Federal Planning Commission, Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency, Nespak and officials to provide the complete presentation on the project planned to ease the alarming traffic problems in the city.
The insiders disclosed that as many as three marathon briefing sessions with thorough presentations had been held so far. Shahbaz Sharif presided over the sessions under the instruction of PML-N Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the sources said.
The project review committee whose head has been appointed on the recommendation of PML-N Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is working on new proposed road alignment in the LRR. The committee also gave in-depth briefing to Shahbaz Sharif to apprise him about the updates.
The sources said the Punjab government was likely to approve the new change in the design of Ring Road this month.
Punjab Chief Secretary Javed Mehmood also issued instructions to the authority concerned to expedite the construction work on the project removing all obstacles. The chief secretary chairing a meeting to review work on the project by the end of April said that 30 per cent of the work on the first phase from Niazi Chowk to Bund Road, which consists of 43 kilometres of new road was near its completion. He said that any further delay in the project would make the project cost-prohibitive.
The confirmed rout of Lahore Ring Road is from Babu Babu to Niazi Chowk, Shama Chowk, Ichhra, Kalma Chowk, Ferozpur Road, Allama Iqbal International Airport, DHA, Mahfuzpura, Harbanspura, Darogawala, Mehmood Booti, Bund Road, Old Rivi Bridge and New Ravi Bridge. The proposed new road alignment will run from DHA to Hdira Drain (South) to Halloki, Behriay Town to Niaz Biag.
There will be one emergency lane on both the sides of the road. Almost 4,25,000 vehicles will pass through this road daily. All link roads with Lahore Ring Road will be improved and widened besides repairing all important highways of the city to cater to the flow of traffic. As many as 14 interchanges will be erected on the road to provide better transport facilities to the citizens.
Well-placed sources in the project revealed that consultant mafia engaged in the project was behind the alarming rise. The sources said that the consultants were awarded 1.75 per cent commission of the total cost of the project. “With a view to increase the ratio of the commission, they changed the design of the project four times in 1992, 1999, 2004, 2007”.
“Again another change in the design is being reviewed,” the sources added.
The sources said that with changes in the project, the total cost of project shot up due to land acquisition, improving standard of existing roads being utilised in the project, shifting of utility installations, crossing over commercial and residential areas and improvements of junctions.
Experts believed that the change of governments, lack of professional capabilities among the departments concerned, loose check and balance and absence of third party resulted in inordinate delay and rising cost in the project.
Reliable sources revealed that during the project, a number of contracts had been awarded to handpicked contractors without acquiring the land for the construction of the Lahore Ring Road, the largest development scheme in the history of the provincial metropolis.
The sources said that usually land was acquired by LDA land acquisition collector, and EDO revenue but in the LRR project, Board of Revenue was involved in acquiring the land exclusively.
The Lahore Ring Road project was originally conceived 25 years ago and a few studies were carried out on it over this period.
The road, touted as an alternative transport route to ease the traffic load within the city, was designed and redesigned in the past with a few alterations keeping in view the political and economic interests of many in the ruling party.
In 1991, JICA, an institution of Japan, proposed a road-loop in the city and the World Bank prepared a feasibility report on a 60 km ring road in the city. In 1995, the Lahore Development Authority presented its Ring Road scheme. At that time, Daewoo and other foreign companies had signed a memorandum of understanding with the LDA.
However, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif wanted the Ring Road to include Raiwind Road where his family had built its farm houses. As a result, the amended road design proposed a length of 75 km. But this project could not take off.
The feasibility of the Ring Road project was finalised in 1997 during prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s period but the project could not be kicked off because of lack of funds. After the construction of the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, bids were invited on a built, operate and transfer (BOT) basis
The project was delayed when a multinational company, which had showed interest in the project, said it would undertake the project only if its loans for the Motorway project were refinanced. Another delaying factor was the unavailability of foreign assistance after Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998.
In 2003, President Pervez Musharraf directed the Punjab government to implement the project when he inspected the FC College and The Mall underpasses in 2003. The Ring Road project has great significance in the context of solving Lahore’s growing traffic problems
The Lahore Ring Road Project was launched on December 22, 2004 at a ground-breaking ceremony attended by President General Pervez Musharaf.
The Communication & Works Department, Project Management Unit, Government of the Punjab awarded the project “Lahore Ring Road Southern Loop Feasibility Study and Selection of Route” to NESPAK in December 2007.
The scope of work includes route alignment study, traffic study, environmental impact assessment, project cost estimates, economic and financial evaluation
It is pertinent to mention that PMU is monitoring and updating the Project Plan on Weekly Basis. PMU Team visits the Project site every week, monitors the activities happening at site, noted them down and updates the schedule. After updating they prepare a Report and send this report to the Government Departments to inform them about the Current Status of the Project whether it is likely to be completed in time or missed.
Source: The Nation, 6/5/2008