Highway woes likely to end; all-weather Banihal tunnel set to be commissioned in south Kashmir
Srinagar: A long wait is finally over. A new 8.5 kilometer all-weather road tunnel connecting Qazigund with Banihal is all set to be dedicated to the nation in the next few days. An engineering marvel, the tunnel will ensure hassle-free traffic movement even during winters when Srinagar-Jammu National Highway often remain shut due to inclement weather and landslides.
This is the second major tunnel that has been constructed on the highway. On April 2, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated nine-kilometer Nashri road tunnel to the nation. Built at the cost of Rs 3720 crores, the Nashri road tunnel has cut down the distance between Jammu and Srinagar cities by around 30 kilometers and saves travel time by at least two hours.
Banihal tunnel will have two tubes which will run parallel to ensure smooth traffic movement. “Each tube will handle one-way traffic. It is an engineering marvel that will cut down travel time,” Muneeb Tak, Assistant General Manager and Electro-mechanical in charge of the tunnel told The Kashmir Monitor.
Constructed by Navayuga Engineering Company under the aegis of National Highways Authority of India, it took 10 years to complete the project.
Estimated to have cost Rs 2100 crore, the tunnel is equipped with a state-of-the-art operational system. It will have different ducts for exhausting the polluted air. It is equipped with 126 jet fans, 234 CCTV modern cameras and a modern firefighting system. The Banihal Qazigund tunnel will cut down the distance between Srinagar and Jammu by 16.5 kilometers. “The tunnel does not fall in the avalanche zone. Work is completed and it will be thrown open very soon. Testing and commission process is in final stages,” said Tak.
Srinagar-Jammu National Highway passes through steep mountains and hundreds of people have lost their lives in accidents and weather vagaries over the years.
Authorities have taken several measures to make the journey safer and the tunnel is part of a four-lane project on the national highway undertaken to give respite to the commuters. The Kashmir Valley is also being connected by a 292 km train link from Udhampur in Jammu to Baramulla in Kashmir. The Rs 11,000-crore rail link is divided into three sections — Udhampur-Katra, Katra-Banihal and Banihal-Baramulla.
The first and third stretch of the rail link has been made operational. It consists of the state-of-the-art 11.2 railway tunnel which has been drilled through the treacherous Pir Panjal Mountains to connect Qazigund with Banihal.
However, the train to the valley will become reality only when 148 km long Katra-Banihal section will be completed. This stretch will have the world’s tallest railway bridge – 359 meters tall – on Chenab River in district Reasi.