The construction of the new Banihal-Qazigund tunnel started in 2011 to avoid frequent closure of Jawahar tunnel is unlikely to be completed this year as major part of the project is yet to take off.
Back in 2011, National Highways Authority India (NHAI) was commissioned to construct two tunnels on Srinagar- Jammu highway to reduce the travel and make the highway motorable for all seasons.
One of the tunnels was to be constructed between Chenani and Nashri and another between Qazigund to Banihal.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw open 10.8 km long Chenani-Nashri tunnel in April this year, the fate of 8.5-km Banihal-Qazigund tunnel still hangs in the balance.
Ghulam Qadir, Project Director, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) said the Qazigund-Banihal Tunnel would be completed by June 2019.
“The construction of the tunnel is going on. We are hopeful that the work will be completed next year," Qadir told Rising Kashmir.
Two parallel 8.5 km tunnels between Quazigund to Banihal are being built by Indian infrastructure major Navayuga Engineering Co (NEC) at 1,790 m above the sea level.
This would be the first project in India where each tunnel would be dedicated to only one-way traffic.
“Qazigund to Banihal highway project is one of the most critical projects in India as it ensures all-weather connectivity to north Kashmir through Pir Panjal Pass, a road prone to closure due to severe weather conditions. The tunnel will also shorten the distance between Srinagar and Jammu considerably,” an official said.
According to sources, NEC was entrusted with the challenge of building one of India’s longest road tunnels that includes a 2-lane twin tunnel of 8.45 km each and 10 meters in diameter.
“This unique twin tunnel construction is strategic in a way that when an emergency arises, the military services can commandeer one tunnel, while civilians can use the other,” they said.
The existing Jawahar tunnel, under the Banihal pass, is at an elevation of 2,194 metres (7,198 feet) making it prone to avalanches, which have lead to closure and bottlenecks on the 265-km all-weather highway linking Kashmir to the rest of the world.
The new Banihal-Qazigund tunnel's elevation is 1,790 metres (5,870 feet), 400 metres below the Jawahar tunnel.
This makes it less prone to avalanches, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials said.
The Qazigund-Banihal tunnel is built with the help of New Australian Tunnelling Method (NATM) technique, where a portion of the rock is cut and explosives are fixed. Then, controlled explosions are carried out to hollow out rocks for laying the road.
The tunnel has two parallel tubes, one for each direction.
Each tube will be seven metres (23 feet) wide with two lanes.
One of the tubes was completed in February this year.
The tubes are interconnected by passages at every 500 metres for maintenance and emergency evacuation.
The tunnel would have forced ventilation for extracting smoke and stale air and infusing fresh air.
It would also have the state-of-the-art monitoring and control systems for security.