RAMBAN: The two-hour-long first trial run of vehicular traffic through the double-tube four lane Banihal-Qazigund tunnel along the 270-km Jammu-Srinagar National Wighway was conducted successfully, officials said on Thursday.
The 8.5-km-long tunnel, built at a cost of Rs 21,00 crore in 10 years, is at present going through the testing and commissioning process and is likely to become operational in coming weeks, they said.
It will bypass the Jawahar Tunnel and Shaitan Nalla, which is prone to heavy snowfall and slippery conditions during winters and results in a bottleneck in the strategically important road linking Kashmir to the rest of the country.
“The first trial run from both sides was conducted successfully from 4 pm to 6 pm on Wednesday,” Muneeb Tak, Chief Manager of Navayuga Engineering Company, which began working on the tunnel in June 2011 said.
The tunnel’s operationalisation would reduce the distance between Banihal in Jammu province and Qazigund in south Kashmir by 16 km.
Deputy Superintendent of Traffic, National Highway, Shemsher Singh said no disruptions were faced during the trial run as the movement of traffic from both sides remained smooth.
The Navayuga company officials said the trial run would continue on alternate days and the timing might also be extended without interfering with the ongoing work.
On June 6, Tak had said the company was engaged in the testing commissioning process after the installation of all required equipment including ventilation and electric system.
“The tunnel is a masterpiece of engineering and has been constructed with the Austrian tunneling method. It has been built on the build-operate-transfer base with a state-of-the-art exhaust system to remove gas and bring in the fresh air,” he had said.
There are 126 jet fans, 234 CCTV modern cameras and a firefighting system installed in both tubes of the tunnel.
The officials said a corridor between the two tubes after every 500 meters has been built that could be used in case of any emergency in either tube.
The existing road tunnel below the Banihal pass often witnessed traffic congestion that affected movement on the highway, the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with the rest of the country, due to its elevation of 2,194 m (7,198 ft) and limited traffic capacity.
The new tunnel’s average elevation at 1,790 m (5,870 ft) is 400 m lower than the existing Jawahar tunnel’s elevation, which would make it less prone to avalanches and fulfills the dream of expressway between Srinagar and Banihal.
On June 8, Union Secretary, Road Transport and Highways, Giridhar Aramane, visited Banihal to assess the status of construction work and said most of the civil, mechanical and electrical works have been completed while the toll plazas on both the terminals are also ready.
He said only security gadgets are pending due to Covid-19 restrictions on flights as they are being procured from Singapore, assuring the mega project will be thrown open for public within weeks.