HYDERABAD: Amid public complaints about accidents, road safety, travel ordeal and damage to freight and vehicles on under-construction Karachi-Hyderabad M-9 Motorway, which connects Karachi with Hyderabad, the chairperson of the National Highway Authority, Shahid Ashraf Tarar, said the erosion of the road’s surface is a temporary problem.
"The problem has appeared because of the temporary toll plaza," he explained, while briefing the Senate standing committee that visited the motorway for inspection on Friday. He briefed the committee along with chief operating officer of Superhighway Construction Operation and Rehabilitation Engineering Ltd (SCORE) Brig (retd) Tahir Raja. SCORE is a subsidiary of the Frontier Works Organization, which has been building the 136-kilometre motorway.
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The project's cost is Rs36 billion. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated a 76-kilometre part of the motorway's completed section three months ago. Irked by public complaints, the Senate's standing committee on communication, consisting four members including the chairperson, inspected the motorway on Friday and later, while quizzing the officials, expressed their discontent pointing to a horde of complaints. Senators Dr Ashok Kumar, Rozi Khan Kakar and Nighat Mirza accompanied Senator Advocate Muhammad Daud Khan Achakzai, the committee's chairperson.
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Briefing the committee, Tarar said a large number of heavy transport vehicles, which are loaded with freight, apply brakes or slow down as they approach the temporary plaza. He said the permanent toll plazas will be built soon along with the completion of the project, adding that a concrete base will be laid under the roads near those plazas so that the road can sustain the weight of the heavy vehicles without caving in.
"The people were complaining that the newly built portion of the motorway has developed depression. We discussed this issue in the senate and decided to visit," Achakzai said. The senator was referring to a few kilometres of the motorway near Thana Bulla Khan where hollows have appeared on one of the six lanes.
The committee was also surprised that SCORE has started collecting the toll tax after completing only half of the project. However, the NHA's chairperson justified the tax collection by telling the senators that under the agreement, the construction company was allowed to levy the tax after building 60 kilometres of the 136-kilometre motorway. "Still, they began [charging the tax] after constructing 76 kilometres," he said.
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The senators criticised the company for claiming construction of 90- to 100-kilometre service road, pointing out that barely 10 kilometres of the service road has so far been built.
"It seems that they are constructing it in haste as not even proper diversion roads have been provided," Achakzai, who belongs to the Awami National Party, observed while talking to the media. "The government was also in a hurry to complete the project before its term ends."
The committee took notice that the NHA has allotted land against payment to some petrol pumps and asked the chairperson to return the money and remove all the encroachments along the motorway.
Questions about unsatisfactory deployment of the motorway police and installation of CCTV cameras were also asked.
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Achakzai said the committee has recommended that the motorway's standard should meet that of Islamabad-Lahore Motorway and that no petrol pump or hotel should be allowed access to the M-9. Although these businesses can operate along the service road but outside the cordoned motorway, he added.
He asked the NHA to cancel the existing direct access to the motorway of those pumps and hotels and to publish an advertisement for the purpose as well.
The SCORE official told the committee that the project will be completed eight months ahead of the scheduled time by August this year.