Leh Expressway Project: Railways minister, RDA chief at loggerheads

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Obaid Abbasi

Islamabad

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) Chairman Arif Abbasi are at loggerheads over the modalities to restart the Leh Expressway Project, sources told the Daily Morning Mail on Tuesday.

Sheikh Rashid, who is the architect of the project, is personally taking an interest as he was the minister of railways when this project was started. However, sources close to the development said that the chairman of RDA and the minister are not on the same page over the modalities to restart the project. Sheikh Rashid is interested in executing the project on its original PC-1 which was finalised in March 2007, during Pervez Musharraf’s era.  Moreover, the minister wants to give the contract to the Frontier Works Organisations (FWO) with its original plan. The total cost of the project at that time was estimated to be Rs20 billion. It was decided that 50 per cent of the funds will be provided by the federal government and remaining by the Punjab government.

On the other hand, RDA chairman has insisted that project should be revised and alongside the expressway commercial buildings should be made so that the government could generate revenue and not put extra burden on national exchequer.

The project was aimed at ending congestion on both the Murree road and the Airport road. Eight flyovers and 10 bridges were also to be constructed on the expressway. A service road would be constructed for local traffic.

FWO as reported was awarded the contract and started the work at the site. However, the work was stopped during the general elections in February 18, 2008, and never resumed as the project was of no interest to the PML-N government in Punjab. PML-N presumed that the completion could be politically beneficial to the party defector Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the project’s architect.

In July 2013, the PML-N government set aside the feasibility study conducted by Nespak and asked the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) to carry out a fresh feasibility study as the previous one was out-dated.

In the meantime, the then chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif launched the metro bus service project for the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

According to the sources, the Minister for National Health Services Aamir Mehmood Kiani was recently briefed by the RDA officials over the project. During the briefing, a private company Land Mark Group also told the minister and the chairman of RDA that the commercial buildings should be made alongside the Expressway to generating revenue to compensate the costs instead of following the old PC-I which needs to be revised as it doubles the cost of the project.

The land mark group, during the meeting, presented some proposals for the construction of the commercial buildings alongside the expressway however, a final decision as to which proposal will be effective for the project is still awaited.

Sheikh Rashid could not be contacted despite repeated attempts, however, Arif Abbasi said that “I will try my best not to put extra burden on national exchequer by executing the project on its original PC-1” .