The Punjab government has decided to stop the development of an underpass at Kalma Chowk, days after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced the project at the inauguration of the Kalma Chowk flyover on August 14. The government gave no official explanation for the suspension of the project.
The chief minister, at a meeting in the Civil Secretariat a couple of days ago, directed Communications and Works Department officials to suspend work on the underpass as the traffic congestion on Ferozepur Road had eased since the flyover had been opened.
Sharif had also announced at the Independence Day ceremony that after the Kalma Chowk underpass, another underpass would be built at the entrance to Model Town on Ferozepur Road. That project is also now on hold.
The chief minister told the C&W officials to prepare a feasibility report for an underpass at Qainchi Amar Sadhu, another of the traffic chokepoints on Ferozepur Road.
Rana Arshad, additional secretary for the Communication and Works Department, said that the department would start work on the feasibility report soon.
Officials suggested that there were two reasons the government has decided to delay building the underpass at Kalma Chowk.
A Planning and Development official said that the project could have had a negative impact on plans to build the Lahore Rapid Mass Transit System (LRMTS).
“We were surprised when Shahbaz Sharif gave the green light to C&W for the project as the Chinese [consultants for the LRMTS] had expressed concern about the effect that building an underpass at Kalma Chowk would have,” he said.
The consultants, as well as the Planning and Development Department, had asked the government to delay the underpass until a feasibility study of the LRMTS is completed, he added.
The official said that a lack of funds was another reason the underpass had been put on hold.
A city district government official said that they had been planning to fund the underpasses at Kalma Chowk and Model Town by selling government land repossessed in a recent drive against encroachments.
District Officer (Finance) Mian Waheed said that the city government had planned to borrow money from the Punjab government and then repay it after selling the land. “Now both projects are on hold we have more time to auction the land and maybe get a better price,” he added.
The chief minister’s decision appeared to disappoint the team executing the Kalma Chowk flyover and underpass projects, as they declined to talk about the matter.
Arshad, the additional C&W secretary, said the city government had not allocated any money for the underpass prior to the chief minister’s decision to suspend the project. Asked if the project had been delayed because of the LRMTS, he refused to comment.
Rafay Alam, a prominent environmental activist, welcomed the decision to suspend the underpass and said ament should instead focus on developing public transport.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.