The first 65km of Northern East-West Highway from – Semtokha to Wangdue Zam- was inaugurated yesterday at Semtokha, Dochula and Wangdue Zam, marking the completion of the widening and up-gradation work on the highway.

Work on the 510km East West Highway, which connects Thimphu to Trashigang started at the end of 2014.

The inauguration was done at three different places. The inauguration plaque was unveiled at Semtokha followed by an event at Dochula where a pictorial overview of project, background, construction stages and work progress were into display. A short documentary clip on the highway was also screened followed by a ride to Wangdue that was organised for the guests to experience the feel of widened and improved road.

Unlike the earlier single lane road, which had an average width of 3.50m and catered to a traffic volume of 150 vehicles a day, the new stretch is double laned and 7.5m wide. The traffic volume of the up-graded road is 2000 – 2500 vehicles a day.

Department of Roads has placed cautionary and information signboards to enhance safe travel. Crash barriers have been installed in accident-prone areas. Two contractors were involved in working on the 65 km stretch.  There are 42 contractors involved in the construction.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said the up-gradation and widening work of the Northern East West Highway was much talked about and also questioned in the parliament.

“We have listened to complaints and criticism but we have now started to hear many words of appreciation,” Lyonpo said.

The minister said that the project worked hard to complete widening within the shortest possible time, despite constraints caused by adverse weather conditions and lesser working time period in higher altitude.

“With the widening and up-gradation of first stretch from Semtokha – Wangdue being completed, the dream of reaching Trashigang within 10 to 11 hours is not so far,” she said adding that the highway is the lifeline of Bhutan.

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji said that tourism is one of the important pillars of economy and eastern Bhutan is one of the least explored regions in the country.  “Poor condition of road has been blamed for the low tourist arrival in the east,” he said.  Eastern Bhutan would offer one of the authentic experiences to tourists, he said and that the widening work is expected to facilitate tourism in the east.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that commuters on this highway have endured hardship and inconvenience despite efforts of the Department of Road to minimise it since the work began. “We implore each traveler to bear with us for another one year, after which we can assure you the best road ride,” he said.

The project would cost about Nu 7 Billion. The widening and up-gradation work on the highway was launched by the Indian President Pranab Mukherji on November 8, 2014 at the Tashichodzong.

The Government of India is financing the project while the Japan International Cooperation Agency is supporting in bridge construction. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are supporting  the project with environmental friendly construction techniques.