NEW DELHI: Work on building a road tunnel across the Zoji La Pass, providing the Kashmir Valley with allweather access to Ladkah, a strategically important border region, will begin May 19.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to lay the foundation stone for the Rs 6,809-crore project spanning over 14.2 km, which is expected to be completed in 2026. Another crucial 6.5 km tunnel at Z-Morh on this stretch of Srinagar-Leh highway is likely to be completed next year.
The survey for the Zoji La tunnel through the pass was first carried out in 1997 by Indian Army and the actual planning had started after the Kargil war in 1999. “This is a step to fulfil the promise to the people of Ladakh for round-the-year connectivity. The 20 km stretch between end point of Z-Morh tunnel and the start of Zoji La tunnel will also be overhauled,” government official said.
Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari claimed Zoji La tunnel will be Asia’s longest bi-directional underground road built almost 400 metres beneath the existing highway. He had said defence forces face a hard time ensuring supplies reach border posts during winters and this pass is most strategic for the entire Kargil sector.
Once the tunnel is completed the travel time on this 14.2 km stretch will reduce to just 15 minutes from the present three hours. Vehicles can run at 80 kmph inside the tunnel, which will have the necessary safety features, including high-tech communication system.
Infrastructure major IL&FS has bagged the project at Rs 4,900 crore, outbidding National Highways and Infrastructure development Corporation last year.
Currently, Ladakh remains cut-off from the rest of India from November to March due to heavy snowfall. “The tunnel will be an engineering marvel as first of its kind on such tough terrain where temperatures fall to 45 degrees,” said a highway ministry official.