KARACHI: The under-construction Green Line bus project has once again become a bone of contention between the Sindh and federal governments. The project has suffered numerous delays due to the failure to finalise the design for Phase II, extending from Taj Medical Complex to Jamia Cloth Market. Development work on this phase has still not started.
At this point, even if a design were immediately agreed upon, the completion of the construction work for Phase II would still take more than a year.
Construction work on the Green Line Bus Project began in December 2016 and was supposed to be completed by December 2017. However, due to the objections of the Sindh government, the Quaid-e-Azam Mazar Management Board (QMMB), and several other factors, the three-phase project is nowhere near completion. Only civil works from Surjani to Gurumandir in Phase I-A have been completed, while work on stations is still under way. Work on the Phase I-B underpass at Numaish Chowrangi is also under way.
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The design of the original plan has been changed twice, while a third change to the design of Phase II is under consideration.
The federal government presented two options to the Sindh government after it raised objections over the recommendation to build two underpasses on MA Jinnah Road. Sindh government, after rejecting the options, has insisted that the Centre instead construct underpasses on Aga Khan III Road and Daudpota Road intersections so that the red line and yellow line, including BRTS lines, can use it in future, and also so that traffic flow on MA Jinnah Road is not disrupted.
According to the plan proposed by the Sindh government, two underpasses on MA Jinnah Road's intersections with Aga Khan III Road and Daudpota Road will be built for traffic going to Saddar and the old city area. Moreover, the Capri Cinema intersection and Tibet Centre intersection will be made signal free. Traffic will continue to move from Capri Cinema intersection to Numaish and Tower, and left turns towards Empress Market will be allowed. However, the traffic flowing from Garden to Empress Market will be restricted.
Traffic will continue to flow from Tibet Centre intersection to Numaish to Tower, but this intersection will remain closed for traffic flowing into Numaish after a right turn from Regal Chowk and traffic flowing to Regal Chowk from the left turn. Two U-turns over the underpasses will be made to ensure smooth flow of traffic to Saddar and the old city area.
Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KIDCL) Chief Finance Officer Zubair Channa shared that the KIDCL Board of Governors had approved the designs of the underpasses to be constructed on Daudpota Road and Aga Khan III Road, but during detail designing of these underpasses, KIDCL consultants observed that the construction of underpasses on the two roads would create further traffic problems instead of addressing the existing ones.
Channa said that both the proposed underpasses will be constructed on crossing roads of MA Jinnah Road and Agha Khan Soyem Road and Daudpota road intersections.
There is a U-turn on Agha Khan III Road near IBA, while Daudpota Road connects Garden Road to Anklesaria Hospital Road. The underpasses, if built on both intersections, will cause severe traffic jams on Kiyani Shaheed Road, Garden Road, and Anklesaria Road due to the lack of space near the slope.
The federal government raised objections on the underpasses and gave two recommendations from its consultants to the Sindh government in January. According to the first option, the Sindh government should either allow the Green Line Bus Project to run at grade on MA Jinnah Road, while the second option entails approving the project for constructing an underground tunnel from Taj Medical Complex to Tibet Centre.
The Sindh government rejected both recommendations, saying that the first recommendation would go against the basic concept of a dedicated route for the Green Line, as Green Line Buses would have to run alongside regular buses and would have to stop at various traffic signals.
On the second recommendation, the Sindh government said only a dedicated route for the Green Line will be built. This recommendation would create an open underground tunnel, with three sections of MA Jinnah at Mansfield Street, Daudpota Road, and Aga Khan III Road covered, and with traffic signals remaining where they are, while the remaining part of the tunnel will remain open, through MA Jinnah Road will narrow into a single lane on either side.
Traffic jams will become routine and problems will also be caused on several other lines of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in future, they argued.
According to Muhammad Athar, the managing director of Sindh Mass Transit Authority (SMTA), the federal government is only dealing with the Green Line Bus Project while the Sindh Government is planning the transport management plan on MA Jinnah Road, based on which the Green Line, Red Line, Yellow Line, Blue Line, and several others will have to pass in the future. Moreover, an appropriate area for traffic is also to be provided.
He said that the Sindh government will have no objections if the federal government completely covers the tunnel and builds an underpass stretching till Tibet Centre by further extending the Numaish Chowrangi underpass. “It will be useful for future plans of the Sindh government, but an open trench is unacceptable under any condition,” he added.
Athar added that a solution to the objections of the federal government has been found. The U-turn near IBA has been demolished, while traffic flow on Garden Road and Anklesaria Hospital has been improved. The plan, after final approval from the technical committee of SMTA, will be sent to the federal government, he said.
Channa told The Express Tribune that the federal government is still waiting for the final reply of the Sindh government. “The objections and alternate options deemed better by our consultants have been submitted to the Sindh government,” he said adding that the Sindh government is responsible for traffic management on MA Jinnah Road. “Hence, the federal government will be obliged to implement the plan approved by the Sindh Government.”
Based on the final response obtained from the Sindh government, the tender process will begin. If permission to construct an underpass on Daudpota Road and Aga Khan III Road intersections is granted, it will take eight months to work on the project, while the underground tunnel from Taj Medical Complex to Tibet Centre could take a whole year, he said.
On the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the procurement of buses for Green Line Bus Project, operational and implementation of the Integrated Intelligent Transport System will be done by the Centre instead of the Sindh government, said federal government officers working on the project.
Under the federal government’s plan, the process of procuring 80 buses will be completed in eight months, during which construction work on Numaish Chowrangi will be completed. Hence, bus operations from Surjani to Numaish will begin soon after, while development work on Phase II will continue. Bus operations will be extended till Municipal Park after its completion.
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The underlying issue
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a KIDCL officer affiliated with the project said the Sindh government’s approval is mandatory for the design of Green Line Phase II as it is the custodian of MA Jinnah Road.
“KIDCL has informed both the Sindh government and the Sindh Mass Transit Authority of the decision reached in the KIDCL board meeting,” said the officer. “In view of the decision taken in a meeting presided over by the chief minister, KIDCL has sought time from the Sindh planning department chairperson for a meeting so that we can discuss the department’s reservations while presenting our stance," he added.
The officer further revealed that the Sindh government has not written any official letter regarding new decisions at the provincial government level. A formal letter issued by the Sindh government will be presented before the KIDCL Board of Directors, which will then decide on a course of action.