… the Dagapela-Dalbari road, inaugurated two months ago, turns unfit for light vehicles 

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Dagapela-Dalbari secondary national highway, inaugurated last November after several delays, is still not suitable for light vehicles, regular commuters say.

A few weeks ago, Karma Jamtsho, a DCM driver for one of the grocery stores in Dagapela was stranded at a block for a night with 11 other vehicles travelling along the highway.

Some were shopkeepers from Phuentsholing driving towards Dagapela to sell goods at the tshechu. Some were mandarin exporters commuting to Phuentsholing.

“I booked a spot for a tent at the tshechu but couldn’t get there on time. My booking was cancelled,” said a shopkeeper from the border town.

Commuters alleged that as the hume pipe installation and retaining wall construction works were ongoing, traffic was directed through a diversion but the route was blocked by a landslide.

“I reached the block site at 7.30pm and there were no people or machines at the site. We informed the authorities concerned but we were told that it would be cleared early the next day,” a commuter said, adding that no one came until 2.30pm the next day.

The block was cleared by 8.30pm, they alleged. Machines for clearing the block were brought from Dagapela.

“There was a shop by the highway but did not have many items like noodles. Some vehicles that travelled via Dalbari returned to Phuentsholing through Lhamoidzingkha,” Karma Jamtsho said.

Funded by the Facility for Infrastructure Development (“ORIO”) of the Netherlands, the construction of 80.58km began in 2014. The highway establishes a new north-south road corridor by linking the existing Sunkosh-Dagana road in the North to Lhamoidzingkha-Kerabari road in the South.

However, it was observed that even after its inauguration, the highway suffered significant damage along Samakhola and Odalthang. Workers and heavy machines are deployed for maintenance and restoration works.

An owner of a light vehicle said that the highway deceived the commuters as only the road points in Dagapela and Dalbari were built with high standards but the quality deteriorated along the highway. He said that people understood that it was challenging to build roads on steep areas but it was riskier for commuters travelling along the highway.

“The road is narrow and the blacktop is already wearing off in some stretches. There is a constant risk of sharp rocks falling on the road,” he said.

The Dagapela resident said that many people started using the highway after its inauguration but many were stranded. “Some restoration works are underway and traffic is diverted along different routes but these diversions are dangerous with threats of landslides.”

A contractor Yeshi Dorji said that the highway was damaged by heavy monsoon last summer.  Three contractors have currently divided the restoration works along the highway. He said they should complete the work by this month’s end but it would take another two months to finish the restoration.

Once machines were maintained, he said that the work would progress swiftly.

“The highway is built along the disaster-prone area and we cannot easily bring in the machines. Due to landslides, our works are delayed,” he said, adding that they were working against nature to build the road. 

“Commuters also impede the work progress,” he added.

The project manager couldn’t be contacted for comments.

Implemented by the Department of Roads with 50 percent co-financing from the Netherlands at Nu 1.5 billion, the new highway is expected to reduce travel time to two hours between Dagana and Lhamoidzingkha.