Blacktopping Pemagatshel highway to take a few more years

Roads: It is just a trip of 24km from Tshelingkhor gate at Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway to Pemagatshel town but driving on this stretch has become treacherous.

Apart from having to face reckless truck drivers, Pemagatshel residents say the road’s surface has disintegrated, is riddled with potholes, and dusty. In summer, rain water accumulates in the potholes and the road also becomes landslide prone.

While widening work is ongoing, blacktopping is yet to occur and the trip can be a rough ride.

Travellers say the road should have been completed by now.

A regular traveller, Karma pointed out that it has been almost nine years since work began but that the highway still resembles a farm road.

“Today we see some workers blacktopping certain portions and then tomorrow on another stretch of road, but the highway never improves,” he said. “Not just potholes but in certain areas it is even difficult to drive because of narrow spaces, especially when we meet trucks.”

Another resident, Kinzang Dorji said either something is wrong with the contractor or the roads department is not working.

A few said it was pointless to blacktop one portion of the road only to have it damaged by trucks when blacktopping of another portion begins.

“Then they will again say they need budget for maintenance and it will go on,” a resident said. “They should widen and blacktop the complete highway.”

But a few travellers said the road was far better after widening compared to the old narrow one. The single lane highway was prone to accidents.

The regional roads department chief engineer, Jigme Choidup, said with limited budget residents may have to wait for a few more years more for the entire highway to be blacktopped.

He added a budget of Nu 15.5 million has been approved and a 4.5km stretch is being blacktopped based on priority. A further five kilometre stretch has been proposed for blacktopping for the next financial year.

“We hope the budget will be approved because if it is not then we cannot blacktop,” he said. “We agree the highway does need quick maintenance but we cannot do that with the limited budget yet we’re hoping the budget will come on time.”

The on-going 4.5km blacktopping work is expected to complete by May 2016.

Jigme Choidup added even if the five kilometre stretch is approved for blacktopping, 15km of the road will still remain unpaved. There are still portions of the road that need widening but given the limited budget work is occurring only in phases.

He said they are trying to complete all work by the end of the 11th Plan.

“Although they had to earlier terminate and appoint a new contractor the blacktop work is going on smoothly as planned,” he said. “But it entirely depends on the budget and if we receive budget on time, we can complete work otherwise, the residents will have to wait.”

Yangchen C Rinzin,  Pemagatshel

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