The construction of Rohtang Tunnel, a strategic project that will also provide all-year road connectivity to Lahaul and Spiti Valley, will be completed “well within” the deadline of 2019, project engineers have said. The tunnel at Rohtang pass in Himachal Pradesh, located at a height of over 10,000 feet, had missed the 2015 deadline due to a number of geological challenges it battled since 2010 when its construction began. According to the data provided by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the implementing agency of the project, 2,249 metres of tunnelling was done last year, the highest annual progress achieved so far. The tunnel across the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, that will measure 8.8 km once completed, will connect Manali to Lahaul and Spiti Valley throughout the year and will reduce the length of the Leh-Manali Highway by about 46 km.
Brigadier D N Bhatt, chief engineer of the project, expressed hope that both ends of the tunnel will meet by the second half of 2017 and that his team will be able to dedicate it to the nation “well within the targeted time frame of 2019”. Praveen Goel, a BRO engineer who was attached with the project recently after his deputation with the Delhi Metro, said the record progress achieved in 2016, came despite heavy snowfall in Solang Valley, “the highest in the last five years”. However, in January this year only 72 metres of tunnelling could be done due to “poor rock quality”, which he said makes the task of excavation more difficult.
In January 2016, progress achieved was 103 metres while July saw the highest progress at 290 metres, mainly due to favourable weather conditions which made work at both ends of the tunnel possible.
The South Portal of the tunnel, being built at a cost of around Rs 4,000 crore, is located at a distance of 25 km from Manali while the North Portal, where work takes place for six months a year, is located near Sissu village in Lahaul Valley at an altitude of 10,075 metres.
“Drill and Blast technique for excavation as part of New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) is being used for the construction of Rohtang Tunnel. On completion, this would be the highest road tunnel in the world,” Goel said.
At present, the Leh-Manali highway remains closed for six months every year as Rohtang Pass remains completely covered in snow between November and April.