India’s longest road tunnel is likely to overshoot the May 2016 deadline to become driver-ready because of a billing dispute between the company that bagged the operation and maintenance contract and the contractor it appointed to carry out the construction work, people associated with the project said.
Just over a kilometer of excavation is left to complete the 9-km-long tunnel on the Chenani-Nashri section on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, Kashmir’s only road link to the rest of the world.
The tunnel at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains is a key part of the highway upgrade work currently under way between Udhampur and Jammu. The whole project will cut about 46 km from the current Jammu-Srinagar distance of 294 km, but reduce travel time by around three hours as the new section will by-pass some hazardous and accidentprone stretches comprising sharp curves, hairpin bends and steep grades on the current route. The all-weather road is also expected to reduce snowrelated traffic disruptions during winter.
Excavation work has stopped some three months ago because of the dispute between project concessionaire IL&FS Transportation Network and the construction contractor, Leighton India Contractors. According to people associated with the pro ject, IL&FS Transportation is in talks with four contractors to complete the project and has appointed a Srinagar-based construction company to manage the excavation part. After the excavation is over, the tunnel would require installation of lighting, line-finishing, ventilation and other technical work.
“There was some dispute over billing between the two companies as a result of which the work stopped,” said RP Singh, project director of the National Highway Authority of India, the government agency that awarded the project. “We are told IL&FS is talking to some companies and the work shall resume soon.” Singh said almost 70% of the work is over.