East-West Road Widening Project Enhances Travelling For Bhutanese Commuters

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in an earlier interview with the Bhutanese media, said that the East-West Highway is an important project, as it would shorten the distances of getting around the country.

East-West Road Widening Project in Bhutan. (Source: www.drukasia.com)


Background of the Road Widening Project

During the Plan talks in 2014, the Government of Bhutan committed Nu 4.63 billion (B) to the Project Tied Assistance and an estimated sum of Nu 7.28B to improve the entire 385km stretch of road from Thimphu in the West to Bumthang in the East. The Ministry of Finance has also invested Nu 561M into the project.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in an earlier interview with the Bhutanese media, said that the East-West Highway is an important project, as it would shorten the distances of getting around the country.

He said that road widening would be impossible in future considering the volume of traffic that is increasing every month. "We obviously need a wider road when the traffic becomes larger," the Prime Minister then said.

The first phase of the road, 65 kilometres from Semtokha in Thimphu to Wangduephodrang, was completed in 2016 and the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay inaugurated it on June 28 this year.

Benefits of the Road Widening Project

Many Bhutanese who commute through the northern East-West highway daily are optimistic that the completion of the road widening project next year would greatly reduce their time on the road.

When the road widening works are completed, the travelling time from Thimphu to Bumthang which used to be about 12 hours’ drive in a bus is expected to take only four to five hours and the two days of travel to Trashigang would be expected to be only about 11 to 12 hours’ drive.

It has already made the life of many commuters easier. It has also improved the businesses of those vendors living along the highway, as they could sell roasted corns and vegetables to the road users.

An engineer working in the Punatsangchu hydropower project, Chimi, said that he comes to Thimphu every weekend because his parents reside in there.

"I never thought the road from Semtokha to Wangdue be so convenient," he said. "I can now make the journey in an hour and a half."

He said that when the road was not widened, it took about three hours to reach Wangduephodrang from Thimphu.

Chimi also said thousands of people have benefitted from the road widening project, in terms of the great reduction of travelling time and also to the conditions of their vehicles. "When the road was not widened, the vehicles got damaged, as we have to give way on rough edges," he said.

He also said that many people from Wangduephodrang, who work in Thimphu, might opt to come to work from home considering the housing shortages and high living standards in Thimphu.

Another Wangdue resident, Sonam Wangdi, who is a teacher in of one of the schools, said that his wife and children are staying in Thimphu.

"I hardly go to Thimphu during the time of widening because more than half of my day was wasted travelling but after the completion of the widening work last year, I travelled every weekend and spent more time with my family," he said.

Sonam Wangdi also said he goes to Thimphu on government holidays.

He said that the road from Thimphu to Wangdue has been a great blessing for commuters. The completion of the entire stretch of the highway would benefit more than 70 percent of the Bhutanese population.

An engineer in Bumthang, Pema, whose family is in Thimphu, said that while the ongoing widening work has made the road condition bad, he is hopeful that it will reduce the travelling once it is completed. "I am also looking forward to a smooth ride free of dust and noise pollution once the widening work is completed."

While the initial plan was to complete about 60 percent of the road widening work in the 11th Plan (2013 to 2018) and execute the remaining 40 percent in next plan, the government pledged that it would complete all the works by 2018.

Challenges of the road widening project

During one of the recent ‘meet the press' session and also at the National Assembly session, the Minister of Works and Human Settlement mandated to improve the road conditions. Dorji Choden said that the contractors who were conducting the widening work met lots of challenges, as the road stretches are rocky, unstable and narrow.

She, however, said that good monitoring would help to complete the road on scheduled time, which is by June 2018.

Minister Dorji Choden also claimed that the public should understand that the road is heavily used and that the works of expansion are carried out with minimal inconvenience caused to those using the highway.

She also said that what the government is doing is for the benefit of the people and after the completion of the road widening work, the majority of the public would be able to enjoy wider and better quality of road in years to come.

The secretary for the Works and Human Settlement Ministry, Phuntsho Wangdi told the Bhutanese media that the road widening project is likely to spill over, as some of the contractors could not complete the work on time.

However, road users are keeping their fingers crossed to see that the work gets completed at the scheduled time. "I hope the government keep its promise," Chimi said.


By Chimi Wangmo (This article has been edited for the New Bhutan Times).





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