Gadkari initiates work on 14.15 km Zojila Tunnel in J&K

Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari kicked off work on the 14.15 km Zojila tunnel in jammu & Kashmir today with the initiation of the first blasting for construction related work. The Zojila Tunnel, one of the longest in Asia, will provide all-year connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh on NH-1 with approach road to Z-morh tunnel and avalanche protection structures.

The tunnel once completed will also bring about an all-round economic and socio–cultural integration of Jammu & Kashmir (Now UTs of J&K and Ladakh). 
The project involves construction of a 14.15 km-long tunnel at an altitude of about 3,000 m under Zojila pass (currently motorable only for 6 months in a year) on NH-1 connecting Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil. It is one of the most dangerous stretches in the world to drive a vehicle and this project is also geo-strategically sensitive.
The project was first conceived in 2005 and its Detailed Project Report (DPR) was prepared by BRO in 2013 on BOT (Annuity) mode. Attempts to award the project four times weren’t successful. The project was eventually given to NHIDCL in July 2016 for implementation on EPC mode. Its work was awarded to ITNL (IL&FS). Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone at Leh and commenced the work on 19 May 2018. The work progressed up to July 2019, and thereafter IL&FS went into financial problems and the project got stuck and the contract was terminated on 15 January 2019.
Thereafter, in February 2020, minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari reviewed this whole project in detail. In order to reduce the cost and to execute the languishing project on priority, he referred the matter to an expert group headed by IK Pandey, DG (RD) & SS, MoRTH. The expert group suggested modalities of project configuration and implementation, to achieve project completion in least possible time and cost.
After due consultation with tunnel experts and other stakeholders, the expert group submitted its report on 17 May 2020, which was approved by the minister, RTH on 23 may 2020. 
The report recommended the following:
  • Construction of two-lane bi-directional single tube tunnel without parallel egress/escape passage;
  • Reduction in construction shafts from 3 to 2;
  • Design speed in tunnel to be 80 kmph; and
  • Approach road of 18 km (net length of 12 km) from end of Z-Morh tunnel to start of Zojila tunnel with avalanche protection structures.
The avalanche protection structure include Catch Dams, Snow Galleries, Cut and Cover, Deflector Dam, etc that will make it an all-weather connection between two tunnels. 
The modified cost worked out to Rs4,429.83 crore and it would reduce the travel time from more than 3.5 Hours currently to just 15 minutes to travel through the tunnel.
The integrated project of Zojila tunnel and approach road from Z-Morh to Zojila with avalanche protection for all weather connectivity as per the modified configuration includes Zojila Tunnel length of 14.15 km and approach road length of 18.63 km – a total project length of 32.78 km.
Construction of the Zojila Tunnel is expected to take 6 years while the approach road will be completed in 2-1/2 years.
Following approval of the project, NHIDCL invited bids for construction of the project. Out of three technically qualified bidders, Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Limited, which quoted the lowest amount of Rs4,509.50 crore was awarded the contract.
The capital cost of approach road from Zojila Tunnel to Z-Morh tunnel (18.63 km) to make the road all weather worked out to be Rs2,335 crore as per the DPR. The combined cost of the tunnel and the approach road works out to 6844.50 crore.
Against this, the construction cost of Zojila tunnel was earlier worked out at Rs6,575.85 crore and after considering the escalation at  5 per cent per annum the total capital cost of the project worked out to Rs8,308 crore by NHIDCL. 
The tunnel will have emergency lay-bys located at intervals of 750 m staggered on both sides of the carriageway, sidewalks on both sides of the carriageway, emergency call niches and fire hydrant niches situated at intervals of 125 metres, fire detection systems, traffic control system, CC TV cameras, and tunnel lighting systems, etc.