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Karakoram Highway inadequate for CPEC traffic, says Senate panel

ISLAMABAD: The Special Committee of Senate on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in its third interim report has raised concern over inadequate width of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) to cater to future traffic volume to be generated by the CPEC.

It also expressed concern over the safety of the people living along the Ataabad lake as cracks have appeared in the embankments on both sides of the lake because of construction activities on the highway.

The committee suggested immediate steps to strengthen the lake’s embankments and widen the KKH to meet future CPEC trade requirements.

ATAABAD LAKE: The report said that there was a general perception in the area that the landslide, which created Ataabad lake, was the result of weakening of mountains because of blasts carried out for construction of the highway. A huge landslide took place on the other bank of the Hunza river where no road existed and no blast took place.

The report noted that there were instances of a few lakes having been formed in the region because of landslides that blocked river paths and there were also a few cases where dams had been formed due to this phenomenon, but because of water pressure such dams developed cracks and finally broke and the gushing water swept away localities situated downstream.

“This danger also existed at the Ataabad lake till the spillway was constructed and steps were taken to firm up the falling debris,” it added.

KKH NARROW WIDTH: The committee felt that the KKH with its present width was inadequate to cope with the CPEC-generated traffic load as the width of containers plying on the highway was about three metres with high mountains on the one side and a deep gorge on the other.

The report noted that fatal accidents on the KKH were already frequent because of small width of the highway and with the heavy CPEC traffic plying on the highway it would be very difficult and risky for the area people and tourists to move from one place to another.

“With the present width of the KKH the increased traffic will move at a snail’s pace and negotiating frequent bends and turns will require high skills on the part of drivers. On the whole, the driving on KKH will be a highly risky and time-consuming undertaking,” the report said.

In view of the above limiting factors, the committee proposed that work on the construction of another two-lane highway on the other bank of the river be undertaken immediately and there should be bridges connecting the two highways at every 10 kilometres (a total of about 40 bridges) and vehicles should ply only on one direction on either road to avoid accidents.

ALTERNATIVE ROUTE: The committee proposed another alternative route for the CPEC by connecting Gahkuch to Shandur and to Chitral via Shandur Pass.

“There is a 120-km-long metalled road from Gahkuch to Gulag Muli in Plundar tehsil. The 27-km-long road between Gulag Muli and Shandur Pass is non-metalled. Beyond the Shandur Pass, the 60-km road to Boone is also non-metalled. The 80-km-long section of the road between Boone and Chitral is already metalled. From Chitral onwards we can touch the Swat Motorway and travel on the existing excellent roads in Khyber Pkhtunkhwa to rejoin CPEC routes.

“This alternative route involves construction of less than 90 kilometres of metalled road in not so difficult terrains and the committee recommends that this opportunity should be accorded priority,” the report said.

GAS PIPILINES: The committee recommended laying of a parallel pipeline along the proposed road to Tajikistan to bring natural gas from Tajikistan to Gilgit.

It noted that Tajikistan and China were working on a 1000-km-long $10 billion gas pipeline project to supply 30 billion cubic meter natural gas per year from its Galkynysh gas field to China.

“Let us explore possibilities of nego­tiating small modification in the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas supply agreement to supply Gilgit-Baltistan with natural gas from Tajikistan.

ELECTRICITY: The report noted that $36 billion had been allocated for electricity generation to overcome loadshedding in the country, but it was a pity that not a single dollar of the CPEC had been earmarked for any power generation project in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The committee recommended that work on a high power grid connecting all power projects of the area be started immediately. It said that there was possibility of constructing one such grid at Chilas, the site of Diamer-Bhasha dam, and the other at Shandur in Ghizer district. The possibility of having a third one between Skardu and Neelum valley for onward connection to the Mangla dam project also appeared to be feasible and necessary, the report said.

EXTENTION OF GILGILT AIRPORT: The report said that flights between Islamabad and Gilgit were based on visual sighting and suggested that small ATR42 aircraft could conveniently handle the descent and turn simultaneously and noted that it was becoming very risky for larger aircraft such as B737 to negotiate safe landing.

In order to manage the fast-growing air traffic between Islamabad and Gilgit, the committee recommended that the number of flights of ATR42 aircraft be increased to an average of four flights a day or around 50 flights (both ways) a week.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2016

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