Sonamarg: Work on the strategically important Z-Morh and Zojila tunnels on the Srinagar-Leh highway is going on at a fast pace and will be completed ahead of schedule, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development (NHIDCL) said on Monday.
Speaking to reporters near the Z-Morh tunnel site in Sonamarg in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, NHIDCL executive director Brigadier Gurjeet Singh Kambo said the 14.15-km long Zojila tunnel will be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel.
Both projects are under the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) and Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari will visit them on Tuesday to review the construction work.
“The work on both the tunnels is going on at a fast pace and we are confident that it will be completed ahead of the schedule, before the contracted time of completion,” Mr Kambo said.
The project cost of the Z-Morh tunnel is ₹ 2,300 crore and that of the Zojila tunnel is ₹ 4,600 crore.
Giving details, he said work on the 6.5-km Z-Morh tunnel recommenced last year and it has to be completed by 2023 according to the original target line.
“But, work has been done very very speedily. We are ahead of the schedule. The breakthrough on the escape tunnel had taken place in June, and for the main tunnel, connectivity was established 72 hours prior which was on September 24. That was a landmark day for Sonamarg,” Mr Kambo said.
The Z-Morh tunnel between Gagangir and Sonmarg will provide connectivity in all weather conditions between Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir and Kargil in Ladakh.
Mr Kambo said this year, the Sonamarg township will be kept open, selectively, for traffic for the the first time in winter. He said that Union minister Gadkari will be the first dignitary to cross the main tunnel. “We are sure that by the middle of next year, all work will be completed,” Mr Kambo said.
For the Z-Morh tunnel, there is a five-km approach road and the tunnel is 6.5-km long and is bi-directional. It also has an escape tunnel for emergencies, he said. The Zojila tunnel, Mr Kambo said, has an 18-km approach road, and state-of-the-art technology has been adopted from European nations in its construction.
“It also has two small tunnels – one two-km-long and the other 500 metres –that have got two tubes one for the upcoming traffic and the other for the down going. With all the technology used, we are confident that we will keep the approach road open in all situations,” he said.
The executive director said the tunnel is through the Zojila Pass at a height of 11,500 feet which keeps the road cut off for about five to six months.
“The main tunnel is 14.15-km and it is being made at an altitude of 9,000-9,500 feet. It has three vertical shafts for ventilation and also for an access to speed up the work on the tunnel,” Mr Kambo said.
“The work started in October 2020 and in about a year, the work on all fronts started, including on both sides of the tunnel, vertical shafts, road, bridges,’ he said.
The target date for completion of the tunnel is 2026, but “we are confident that we will be able to do the work much earlier”, he said.
“We have already done nearly about 500 metres of the tunnel excavation and every day we are carrying out a large number of blasts and the excavation of 30-40 metres in the tunnel portion alone,” Mr Kambo said.
With these tunnels coming through, tourists can more easily visit Sonamarg, and connectivity to Ladakh will be established on the Kashmir side, he added.
He said both the APCO – the construction agency for Z-Morh tunnel — and MEIL – for Zojila tunnel — have taken up the works of the two tunnels in a very diligent manner and they are doing a wonderful, job for the nation.
He said in the past five to six years, ₹ 6,500 crore worth of projects have been completed in J-K and ₹ 22,500 crore worth of projects are presently ongoing.