Much excitement was generated when news broke of two road tunnels being considered linking Thimphu to Paro or Wangdue.
Some were already thinking of the possibilities of working in Thimphu but living in either of the two dzonkhags.
However, not much progress has been made since the news broke.
It was eventually decided that the Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel makes more sense as it would shorten travel time to many more dzongkhags. A few aerial surveys were even carried out.
However, the obstacle is not the mountains or the young geology. It is budget. The costs of building a tunnel are astronomically higher when compared to roads.
There are several benefits to building tunnels, especially for a country like Bhutan. Travel time and costs can be dramatically cutdown. Landslides, a perennial plague every summer, and sometimes even in the winter, are avoided. The environment is not as affected as mountains are not scarred and less trees are cut down.
Switzerland, which shares similar geography has fully utilised the use of tunnels for transportation and is reaping the benefits. We recognise the benefits.
But can we afford to go for tunnels when we can achieve close to the same results by building better roads?
Any driver would recognise that our existing national highways can be further improved with further investment. Measures are being pursued to improve them. A road masterplan does exists.
Some roads can be shortened further by eliminating bends which could shave travel time even further. Short rather than long tunnels, and bridges, can be utillised on certain roads especially when it could reduce an unnecessary detour.
More funds could also be invested in putting in place measures beyond retaining walls to slide proof roads.
It is also important to know that some of our communities are yet to be connected with motor roads and bringing roads to all communities should take precedence over connecting Thimphu with another route.
In the long run, when the country has funds, or if a donor country is willing to support the construction, then long road tunnels can be pursued. Imagine driving to Bumthang in an hour or two, or driving to Thimphu from Trashigang in the morning only to return in the evening. The cost savings on time, fuel, and other related expenditures will be significant. The environment too will benefit with less emissions.