T5 tunnel to help travellers bypass most-vulnerable stretch on Jammu-Srinagar national highway, inauguration next week

RAMBAN: Known for its unpredictability due to the sudden shooting of stones from the hillock overlooking the strategic Jammu-Srinagar national highway, the most vulnerable stretch of Panthyal in Ramban district is set to get bypassed with the inauguration of the T5 tunnel next week.

The work on the twin-tube 880-metre tunnel, part of the highway realignment project, started in 2020 and is expected to be completed within the next five days. It will put an end to the threat of shooting stones which have consumed numerous human lives.

Over the past couple of years, a temporary iron and steel tunnel at the crucial stretch provided some relief to the people travelling on the highway. But the rolling stones continued to cause frequent disruptions in the smooth movement of traffic.

“Panthyal has remained a critical stretch for decades. This treacherous stretch will be bypassed with the inauguration of T5 tunnel, which is more or less in the completion stage,” Ramban Deputy Commissioner Mussarat Islam told PTI.

Islam, who is monitoring the project and regularly updates the progress on social media, said the opening of the T5 tunnel would end the fear of shooting stones forever along with frequent traffic jams on the stretch.

In a tweet recently, he said the opening of the T5 tunnel will lay the “ghost of Panthyal to rest, forever”. In another tweet, he shared the photographs of Pavement Quality Concrete (PQC) work for top-wearing layers being laid in T5.

The four-lane project of the 270-km highway, the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with the rest of the country, started in 2011. The work, which included a number of small and major tunnels, bridges and flyovers is likely to be completed by next year after missing several deadlines over the past decade.

“We have the most critical stretch of 66 km passing through the district (Ramban) from Nashri tunnel to Banihal tunnel. The National Highway Authority of India is working on the project. We have got three tunnels in the past year and several other small tunnels and bridges are nearing completion which will bypass other critical spots on the road,” the deputy commissioner said.

He expressed hope that the travel through Ramban district will become very comfortable by July end.

“The Ramban flyover which will bypass Ramban market is expected to be thrown open by April 15, Jaishwal bridge near Karole by March 31 and 873-metre Kunfer tunnel between Peeda and Chanderkote next month as well,” he said.

The officer said the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, also known as NH44, is the only highway where a four-lane project is under progress without stopping vehicular movement.

“On an average, over 10,000 to 11,000 vehicles ply on the highway on a daily basis (between Srinagar and Jammu). It is a lifeline and the only all-weather road so the challenges being faced by the executing agencies are much more than anywhere else,” he said.

He said supplies to Kashmir, including perishable items, are carried via this road.

“The administration is giving full support to NHAI for the completion of the project in a time-bound manner and to ensure smooth flow of the traffic,” he said. Varinder Singh, an official working with CPPL construction company which is working on the T5 tunnel, said over 200 workers have been engaged to complete the tunnel on a fast-track basis.

“The engineers, supervisors and labourers are all working together in shifts round-the-clock to ensure the opening of the tunnel,” he said.

Social activist Iftiyaz Ahmad said the opening of the tunnel will be a major breakthrough as many lives have been lost due to the shooting of stones in Panthyal.

“We request the central government to sanction some more tunnels in the slide-prone areas to make the road safer,” he said.

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