On October 28, 2023, a historic moment unfolded in Bangladesh as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel (BSMRT), marking the launch of South Asia’s first underwater expressway tunnel. This engineering marvel is set to usher in a new era in communication in Bangladesh, promising far-reaching impacts on the country’s economy, connectivity, and industrial growth.
The Bangabandhu Tunnel, named in honor of Bangladesh’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is a remarkable infrastructure project situated at the mouth of the Karnaphuli River in Chattogram city. This 9.3-kilometer-long tunnel is a testament to modern engineering and construction capabilities, representing the first large-diameter underwater tunnel undertaken by a Chinese company overseas. It was constructed under the stewardship of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), setting new standards in tunnel engineering.
The project presented significant technical challenges, particularly concerning the complex geological structures surrounding the tunnel’s location. To overcome these challenges, the project team adopted innovative solutions, including the use of the world’s largest steel casing. This casing allowed specialized machinery to access the tunnel’s interior, enabling the successful execution of the project. The Bangabandhu Tunnel was designed to Chinese standards, constructed using Chinese equipment, and managed by Chinese enterprises, showcasing the culmination of China’s expertise in tunnel construction overseas.
The significance of the Bangabandhu Tunnel extends beyond its engineering prowess. It is a pivotal component of the broader Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and a key contributor to the Belt and Road Initiative. Its role in enhancing transportation conditions in Chattogram and driving economic development in Bangladesh cannot be overstated.
Beyond its engineering marvel, the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel holds the promise of unlocking Bangladesh’s economic potential on a grand scale. The tunnel is expected to have a significant impact on several key economic sectors and further enhance the country’s position in the region.
The tunnel seamlessly connects the Matarbari Deep Sea Port, Chattogram Port, Bay Terminal, and the Mirsarai Economic Zone. This strategic linkage of ports and economic zones has far-reaching implications. The Matarbari Deep Sea Port, currently under construction, and a seaport jetty at the Mirsharai economic zone area are set to be connected through the tunnel by 2025 and 2026, respectively. As a result, thousands of factories on the north side of the tunnel have already attracted more investments. The under-construction Bay Terminal, situated next to the tunnel, is expected to open in 2025 and will handle as much goods as the Chattogram Port. The tunnel’s contribution to streamlining port operations and reducing transportation costs is expected to have a profound impact on trade and commerce, both nationally and internationally.
The establishment of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar in Mirsharai, covering a vast expanse of 33,805 acres, is a significant development. This industrial zone, which is approximately 10 kilometers from the Dhaka-Chattogram highway and 65 kilometers from the port city, is set to be connected to the tunnel through a marine drive along the coast. This connection is expected to save both time and money, expediting industrialization in the area.
Data from the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) reveal that numerous companies have already leased land in this zone. These businesses have invested substantial amounts, creating jobs for tens of thousands of people. As more plots are allocated to investors in the zone, it is anticipated that full operations will result in the creation of over 1.5 million jobs. The economic growth associated with this industrial corridor will have a profound impact on the local and national economies.
The Bangabandhu Tunnel is not only a domestic game-changer but also a significant player in boosting international trade. The tunnel’s role in improving the Asian Highway Network is expected to strengthen connectivity between Bangladesh and neighboring countries. It positions the country as a key player in the region’s trade dynamics, facilitating the transit of goods not only within Bangladesh but also with India, Nepal, Myanmar, and beyond. Besides its economic significance, the tunnel is poised to boost tourism in the region. As connectivity improves, the scenic beauty and cultural heritage of Southern Chattogram become more accessible to tourists. This development will have a positive impact on local businesses, employment, and overall regional development.
Experts stress the importance of the speedy implementation of the 230-kilometer marine drive project to maximize the tunnel’s utilization. This project is considered crucial to unlock the full potential of the tunnel. Through the marine drive, the efficient use of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar, Matarbari Deep Sea Port, and the entire region from Mirsharai to Cox’s Bazar is expected to develop as an economic corridor. While the tunnel’s loan repayment is set to begin in 2025, it may not be possible to cover installments with its income alone in the initial years. The full benefits of the tunnel will be reaped when these industrial zones are fully operational.
The Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel is more than just an engineering marvel; it’s a symbol of Bangladesh’s vision for economic progress, regional connectivity, and international trade. As it opens to the public, it represents a significant step toward transforming the nation’s economic landscape and positioning Bangladesh as a key player in the region’s economic development.
The tunnel is set to become a catalyst for industrial growth, particularly in Chattogram’s southeastern region. By connecting key economic corridors on its two sides, such as the Dhaka-Chattogram and Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar highways, it creates the foundation for what experts describe as the country’s largest industrial corridor, stretching from Mirsrai to Cox’s Bazar. This growth is expected to attract local and foreign investments, leading to the establishment of numerous factories and industrial facilities in the region.
Prominent companies like Akij Group, Four H Group, Diamond Cement, S Alam Group, and Partex Group have already secured real estate for new factories, spanning various sectors, including power, petroleum, apparel, shipbuilding, fish processing, steel, cement, and oil refinery. The Unitex Group is investing in a chemical factory that will generate employment for 500 people. The Mostafa Hakim Group has launched a steel factory and an oxygen plant, employing around 2,000 workers. The tunnel’s opening has led to a surge in interest from countries like Japan to invest in Chattogram, focusing on industries such as shipbuilding, chemicals, electronics, and furniture. This industrial growth is expected to boost local employment, trade, and overall economic prosperity.
The Bangabandhu Tunnel not only connects two regions of Bangladesh but also plays a crucial role in improving the Asian Highway Network and enhancing connectivity with neighboring countries. It facilitates seamless transit of goods between Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Myanmar. This improved connectivity is set to increase local and foreign investment in Chattogram, thereby driving trade and investments in the region. Moreover, it is expected to serve as a golden gateway for the country’s industrialization.
The tunnel’s impact extends to the real estate and housing sectors, as businesses and industries expand in Southern Chattogram. Approximately 100 companies have acquired real estate near the tunnel, with some already constructing factories and others planning to embark on projects that will reshape South Chattogram. Multi-storied buildings and rental properties are becoming increasingly available, creating opportunities for the housing sector. CPDL, a housing sector company in Chattogram, is planning a satellite city under its subsidiary CPDL Neer, indicating a growing demand for housing in the region. Companies like the Albion Group are strategically positioning themselves to supply raw materials to industries in the South, further stimulating economic activities.
Business leaders and economists emphasize the need for the development of the Dhaka-Chattogram highway and high-load capacity roads. They recommend the construction of an eight-lane international-standard Dhaka-Chattogram highway to fully realize the benefits of executed megaprojects like the Bangabandhu Tunnel. Cost-effective logistics and infrastructure projects are essential to maximize the tunnel’s advantages, and experts recommend raising vehicle load limits to reduce logistics expenses. Stakeholders stress the importance of a comprehensive master plan for future urbanization in South Chattogram, covering Anwara and Karnaphuli upazilas. Such a master plan is deemed essential to maximize the impact of the new township in the South, which is expected to benefit from its proximity to the tunnel.
The Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel stands as a testament to modern engineering and international collaboration. It is set to play a pivotal role in transforming Chattogram into a logistics hub and driving economic growth across various sectors. With its potential to revolutionize the region’s infrastructure, connectivity, and industrial landscape, this engineering marvel is indeed a beacon of progress for Bangladesh and a symbol of the country’s commitment to economic development. As the tunnel opens to the public, it marks the beginning of a new era for Bangladesh’s economic future.
Md. Abu Sadeq
Managing Director of S.S Group & Advisor, Diplomats Publication