Here’s what made Quazigund to Banihal section of NH-1A a success!
The National Highway Development Project (NHDP) was formed with a view to develop the various National Highway Corridors to four or six lanes for safe and efficient movement of traffic. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been entrusted to develop, maintain and operate these corridors either through its own budgetary sources or loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank. Accordingly, NHAI has taken up project preparation of certain stretches on the North-South and East-West corridors in phases. Package V was proposed to run as a parallel alignment to the existing NH-1A (currently NH-44) between Banihal Town and Qazigund Bypass with a length of about 15.25 km, as against 32.70 km of the existing NH-1A. The project has been implemented on DBFOT (annuity) mode. Chinta Sridhar, Managing Director, Navayuga Engineering, shares more on the innovations and approach that led to successful completion of the project. Scope of work The scope of work involved a tunnel – twin tubes of each being 8.45 km length; construction of two new major bridges; construction of six new minor bridges; construction of 20 new culverts; and construction of one road underbridge (RUB). The Pir Panjal Mountain range basically separates the Jammu province from the Kashmir valley. It is divided by Jhelum River on the northern side and the Chenab River basin on the southern side. Many minor streams, including Bichlari River, cross the four-lane alignment, which crosses the mountain range through the 8,450-m twin-tube tunnel. The main features of the tunnel also included a functional cross section of 66.919 sq m; a vertical clearance of 5 m; electrical and mechanical systems for fresh air, smoke extraction and pollution control; a SCADA system; and a fire-fighting system. A highly experienced project team was deployed to supervise all activities, from excavation to final commissioning of the tunnel. Despite many constraints and issues with law and order and unrest, the concessionaire was successful in commissioning and operating the project. Reducing travel time and other benefits This project of national importance is also essential for security and strategic reasons and to augment the ongoing Jammu-Srinagar Highway, which is a critical connectivity to Srinagar. It bypasses the Jawahar Tunnel, which is the only link to the region and generally remains in poor condition owing to heavy traffic and extreme weather conditions throughout the year. The tunnel connects the Kashmir valley with the rest of India and will help ensure continuous year-round supply of essential commodities, which is often disrupted owing to snowfall and landslides. Earlier, the valley was connected through the Jawahar Tunnel, which is located at a higher altitude of about 2,200 m and is prone to slides and avalanches, because of which the road has to be closed for most of the winter. By commissioning this project, travel length has been reduced to 16 km from the existing 32 km and travel time has been reduced to 10 minutes from almost three hours! Further, it is an all-weather road, free from landslides and avalanche zones. Equipment and technology used Availability of the latest technology, advanced machinery and materials enhanced timely completion. Two two-boom boomers and one three-boom boomer with a GPS system for drilling, advanced shotcrete machines, high-capacity loaders/dumpers, transit mixers, batching plants, crushers, lining gantries, steel fibre, wire mesh, self-drilling anchors, swellex bolts, SN bolts, micro cement, PU grout and rigid and flexible pavers were used during construction. The most commonly encountered geological problems during tunnelling in the Himalayan region are fault/thrust/shear zones, running ground conditions, squeezing, heaving and swelling, rock bursting, groundwater inflow, wedge/block failures, hot temperature conditions, and gases in rock. The ongoing tectonic activities in the region are what flashed the need for the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM). Construction of underground structures in this type of varying geology is challenging. NATM, which is based on deformation monitoring data to evaluate quantity and quality of the support system, has proved to be an appropriate tool for tunnelling in the young Himalayas. It is flexible to adopt different excavation geometries, large cross-section area, change and design of an appropriate support system, and is easy to install. This method mainly works where the effort is to utilise the self-supporting capability of the soil to its optimum so that minimum possible support is being provided initially and an additional support system, if required, is decided on the behaviour of the excavated area by continuous monitoring. NATM is economical, saves time and is safe compared to other methods of tunnelling. Challenges in project execution The biggest challenge was the supply of construction materials from Jammu to the site, as the existing National Highway from Ramban area to Banihal would be closed most of the time owing to frequent landslides and geological conditions. This was a difficult terrain to work on, with the average temperature falling below 5° Celsius during winters, and the site being covered with snow for most of the season. Sensitive equipment was airlifted from approved international vendors and installed. Central and state government policies for national security and safety concerns, the Burhan Wani death case, abrogation of Article 370 and the outbreak of COVID-19 were some of the biggest challenges faced during construction. Best efforts were made to stock as much material as possible during the opening of the highway. However, the project had its own limitations and there were many geological surprises during tunnelling excavation. Advance planning at the micro level, implementation and progressive reviews were the key to success to surpass all these challenges. Ensuring worker safety and security All workers deployed on the job underwent a medical examination for fitness. The majority of the workforce received job-specific training. HSE (Health Safety Environment) induction training was also given before deployment to make them aware of the associated hazards and safety measures to be taken. Periodical medical examinations were conducted to check the health condition and status of the workers. Medical facilities, such as a dedicated dispensary with certified medical assistants at all sites, were provided and first-aid boxes were available at all work fronts. Ambulance services were provided round the clock to handle any type of emergency. Hazard identification and risk assessment of activities were carried out to minimise incidents and accidents and ensure a safe working platform. All necessary personal protective equipment was provided with the safety gear as per the risk assessment, such as safety shoes, gum shoes, reflective jackets, helmets, googles, hand gloves, harness, etc. Further, winter clothing was provided to all workers to ensure their comfort. Workers were given a periodical tool box talk and training at site about maintaining a safe work environment by a dedicated safety team. Mock drills were conducted to check the efficiency of systems. All workers were given training on emergency preparedness and response plan. Assembly points and shelter points were provided to be used in case of an emergency situation. Hygienic worker camps were provided with facilities such as kitchen, laundry, drinking water, washrooms and experienced cooks. Rations were stocked for a minimum of 25 days for smooth running of the project and to provide workers clean and hygienic food. Armed forces were deployed to ensure safety and security of all working personnel. Ensuring passenger safety The twin-tube tunnel consists of two parallel tunnels – one for each direction of travel. Each tunnel is 7.5 m (24.6 ft) wide and has two lanes. The two tunnels are interconnected by a cross passage at every 500 m (1,600 ft) for maintenance and emergency evacuation. Each tube enables uninterrupted traffic flow, with a 3.75-m-wide main carriageway and a 3.25-m-wide emergency lane. In case of a vehicle breakdown, the emergency lane helps in rescue operations. Traffic moves in each direction separately (unidirectional traffic movement), which is safe and hassle-free. An integrated tunnelling control system is utilised to control and manage facilities or utilities of various subsystems, which include: Controlling and monitoring of traffic inside and outside the tunnel Controlling and monitoring of ventilation inside and outside the tunnel Monitoring power supply system inside and outside the tunnel Monitoring of emergency call system inside the tunnel Monitoring of linear heat sensing system inside and fire alarm system outside the tunnel and buildings Controlling and monitoring of video surveillance system inside and outside the tunnel. The ventilation system provided is semi-transversal and longitudinal. The correct selection of a ventilation system is important as it is critical in case of a fire outbreak in the tunnel. The tunnel is equipped with a state-of-the-art E&M system, consisting of 237 CCTV cameras, two PTZ cameras, 68 SOS boxes, 126 jet fans, eight sets of axial fans of 1 mw each, 66 fire hydrants, 26 sensors for air quality and air direction and a linear heat sensing cable throughout the length of the tunnel. All the equipment is connected to the traffic control rooms on either side of the tunnel. Operations are being carried out from the south portal traffic control room through a SCADA system.Project details Project Rehabilitation, strengthening and four-laning of the Quazigund to Banihal section of NH-1A, from 189.350 km to 204.700 km including tunnel (two lane) of 8.45 km length on DBFOT (Annuity) basis in Jammu & Kashmir (Package No. NHDP-Phase-II/BOT/II/J&K) Client National Highways Authority of India Concessionaire Navayuga Quazigund Expressway Agreement signed July 13, 2010 Appointed date June 5, 2011 Concession period 20 years from appointment date, i.e., June 4, 2031 Total project cost EPC cost: Rs 2,129 crore; BOT cost: Rs 3,864 crore Mode BOT-Annuity Total project length 16.268 km Tunnel length 8.45 km (twin-tube tunnel); India’s largest Maximum traffic 580 vehicles per lane per hour Commercial operation date (COD) July 31, 2021 Date of inauguration by Prime Minister April 24, 2022