At least for a week in the run up to local government elections 

Roads: The second election coordination meeting for the second phase of the local government (LG) elections in Trongsa, decided to keep the Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority’s (MHPA) head race tunnel open to traffic for a week leading up to elections.

It was decided that the tunnel would be kept open to traffic from 7:30am till 8:30pm daily from September 21 to 28. Gammon officials said they would maintain the tunnel during the night.

The tunnel is currently opened to traffic only at 8am and 8pm.

Some members said vehicles with low clearance should not be allowed through the tunnel.

However, given the importance of the elections, it was agreed to allow vehicles with low clearance through the tunnel.

Personnel equipped with safety equipment like fire extinguishers will be stationed every 200-300m intervals in the tunnel. The portion of the 13.5km tunnel being used for traffic is around 2km in length.

Traffic management will also be carried out.

It was agreed that the tunnel will be maintained to make it accessible to all kinds of vehicles.

Trongsa’s election officer, Needup, said this arrangement will be in place only if the Dzongkhalum road remains blocked. “Vehicles will have to use the road otherwise,” he said. The members decided that the road must be cleared by September 20.

Needup said the Election Commission of Bhutan would not want the local government elections hampered by the roadblock, which is into its second month.

Dzongdag Sonam Rinchen said there will be many people coming from different parts of the country to vote and having the tunnel as an alternative route is recommended. He said the road could get blocked again after it is cleared.

Members also deliberated if the road could be cleared and opened to traffic before September 20. Department of Roads (DoR) chief engineer in Trongsa, Tougay Chedup, said it could be completed by that date only if MHPA helps in dumping 20 truckloads of boulders every day.

He said he is pessimistic about meeting the deadline given the limited resources. Officials from MHPA and Jaypee also agreed to help fill up the gorge by contributing boulders along with DoR and the Bhutan Engineering company.

The meeting also tasked MHPA with coordinating and determining how many truckloads of boulders the various stakeholders must contribute.

Korphu gewog administrative officer, Ugyen Phuntsho, expressed concerns about the damaged Reotala bridge hampering local government elections. He suggested that DoR reopen the old bridge located beside the damaged one to pedestrian traffic so that people can go to vote.

Drakteng gewog administrative officer, Sonam Tshewang, said it was important to have the road re-opened at the earliest not only for the sake of elections. “People have already gone through quite a lot of hindrances,” he said.

The road clearing and gorge fill up works are on full swing. While people can cross the slide area, pedestrian traffic is currently not allowed.

Nima Wangdi | Trongsa