MEIL Constructing Asia’s Longest Bi-directional Zojila Tunnel

 - Sakshi Post

An engineering marvel, strategically built at an altitude of 11,578 feet.

Will strengthen India’s defense system & economy of J&K and Leh-Ladakh.

Zojila Pass is the strategic link connecting the Leh-Ladakh region to Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir, and with the rest of India. This Silk Route is most crucial for the defense and economic activities of the region.

The region however does not have all-weather connectivity, especially to Leh, the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh. This has heavily hit the transport sector, thereby impacting the entire economy of the region.

Presently, the road from Srinagar to Leh is not open all year round, as it is not suitable for vehicular movement. Connectivity is limited to only five months in a year owing to extreme snowfall during winters. The existing Srinagar-Ladakh highway is closed from mid-November to April, literally cutting off this entire region from the rest of the world.

This is posing a big hurdle for the movement of the Army and military vehicles. The alternative routes are long-winding and time-consuming, resulting in huge expenditures. Moreover, these alternative routes are closer to the Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan borders. Therefore a strategic alternative was the need of the hour. This is where the Zojila Tunnel project comes in.

The Government of India decided to develop the highways in the Kashmir-Ladakh region. As part of this, a highway had to be built from Srinagar to Baltal.

Executing the Zojila project requires an experienced and efficient contractor. Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Ltd. (MEIL), India’s engineering giant, bagged this prestigious project in October 2020. It quoted the least price during the tender process conducted by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL).

MEIL is constructing this project in the EPC mode (Engineering, Procurement & Construction). Constructing this tunnel project in the Himalayas is quite challenging, given the extremely peculiar and harsh atmospheric conditions. This engineering marvel will be the first of its kind in such a geographical zone.

Significance

Once the Tunnel is completed, travel between Srinagar and Ladakh throughout the year will become a reality. While the distance will be reduced (from Baltal to Minamarg) from 40 km to 13 km, travel time too will be reduced by 1.5 hours between the two Union Territories. The journey will be less strenuous as the roads will be evenly paved.

The project will lead to the integrated development of both the Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh regions, at maximum speed.

Country’s Longest Road Tunnel

The length of the Zojila tunnel is 14.15 km. Once completed, it will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel. Several bridges are being constructed along this route, and works are being executed at a brisk pace.

A connecting tunnel from Z-Morh in the National Highway-1 to Zojila tunnel will be constructed in the Zojila Ghats between Sonamarg and Kargil. The entire work is divided into two divisions in the 33 km span.

Part 1 – Development of 18.475 km highway

The first part involves the development and expansion of the 18.475 km highway between Z-Morh to Zojila. Along this alignment, about 3.018 km highway stretch will be expanded. The remaining portion of the highway (13.842 km) will be freshly developed. 

This highway consists of two twin-tube tunnels. The first twin-tube will be 435 meters long and the second twin-tube will be 1,950 meters long. This section will also have five bridges - each 300 meters long. Two snow galleries will also be built. The first snow gallery will be 150 meters long, and the second one will be 300 meters long. All these works come up to a total of 18.475 km.

Part 2 – Development of 14.15 km tunnel

The second division involves the construction of the 14.15 km Zojila tunnel, which will be a two-lane highway (9.5 meters wide and 7.57 meters high) in the shape of a horseshoe. The New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM), an advanced technology, is being used in these works.

In addition to these works, a 2,350 meter Cut and Cover tunnel (concrete tunnel) will be constructed as part of the Part 1 section. This will be divided into 8 segments. Three ventilation caverns/shafts are also being constructed. Two shafts, called ‘Transverse ventilation System’, are also being built. Works also include constructions of portals, control buildings, ventilation buildings, and muck disposables along the route. A transport ventilation system, additional retaining walls, breast walls, gabion, soil walls will be constructed on a 10 km stretch. In addition to this, catch dams, air blast, protection walls, and deflector dams will also be constructed on a 6 km stretch for protection from avalanches.

It also constructing 3 Vertical Shafts for providing a ventilation system to the tunnel. In this project west shaft, height is 500 mts, the central shaft height is 385 mts and the east shaft height is 220 mts are being constructed.

MEIL is executing this project using the latest technology, which is on par with European Standards. This includes the automatic lighting and emergency lighting facilities, message signaling, emergency telephone, and radio.

Harsh Weather Conditions

The project is facing several unforeseen hurdles as it is located at an altitude of 11,578 feet above sea level. The hilly terrain is treacherous and experiences heavy ice storms and avalanches. Ice layers remain stagnated for nearly eight months, while the alignment route of the tunnels experiences water seepage. Temperatures here go down to - 40 degrees Celsius during winters, making it extremely difficult to execute the works.

Honorable Minister Shri. Nitin Gadkari Visits the Tunnel 1 and Tunnel 2 at Nilgrar Site. Tunnel 1 (Nilgrar Tunnel 1) is a twin-tube tunnel of 435 m in length each. Tunnel 2 (Nilgrar Tunnel 2) is 1.95 km in length each. These Twi Tunnels are part of an 18 km long approach road to zojila west portal. He also visits The Zojila Through the east and West ends. Zojila Tunnel will provide Connectivity to the Ladakh region Kargil, Leh, and Drass. These Three Tunnel works are carried by Megha Engineering under the Mammoth Zojila Tunnel Project.

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