The 14 km long Zojila tunnel at an altitude of about 3000 m under Zojila pass – presently motorable only for 6 months in a year on National Highway-1 – will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bidirectional tunnel
With the construction work on the Z-Morh escape tunnel nearing completion, and the geo-strategically sensitive Zojila project gathering pace, an all-weather safe connectivity between Srinagar, Dras, Kargil and Leh regions is advancing fast.
The Z-Morh escape tunnel, expected to be ready for controlled movement by November, will enable locals and tourists to visit Sonamarg in the Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir during the winter season. The work on the main tunnel (6.5 km) is expected to be completed by 2023.
Its security implications, spotlighted by the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Ladakh region, are obvious.
An alpine valley 87 km north-east of Srinagar, Sonamarg is the gateway to Ladakh and situated just before the Zojila pass. It remains cut off from the rest of the country during winters due to the road passing active avalanche areas.
The Zojila tunnel, which when completed would be the longest tunnel road in Asia, will be a landmark achievement in the history of modern India. The all-weather safe road is also immensely important from the strategic point of view considering the massive military activities along the country's borders in Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan regions.
The government is already going full throttle on the prestigious project, reviewing its progress consistently with a detailed assessment of all vital aspects of the construction work.
On Wednesday, Union Secretary, Road Transport and Highways, Giridhar Aramane, visited the construction site of Z-Morh and Zojila tunnels at Sonamarg to have first-hand appraisal of the work progress made on these projects.
After carrying out the blasting ceremony at Z-Morh tunnel, he held an on-ground review of east and west portals and was briefed about the pace and progress of construction work on the main tunnel and Escape tunnel, safety measures, ventilation water proofing works and drainage system.
Aramane then visited the ongoing work on Zojila Nilgrar portals and approach roads of the 14 km main Zojila, directing the executing agencies to expedite pace of work so that targets are achieved within the stipulated time frame.
Zojila Tunnel – the game changer
The 14 km long Zojila tunnel at an altitude of about 3000 m under Zojila pass – presently motorable only for 6 months in a year on National Highway-1 – will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bidirectional tunnel. It will cut down the time taken to cross the Zojila pass from the present 3.5 hours to just 15 minutes, besides making the drive much safer and convenient.
With the connectivity on the 425 kilometre Srinagar-Leh highway remaining disrupted for long periods due to snow, the completion of the project will bring a huge relief to the people of the region. Besides generating employment to the locals, the Zojila tunnel project also fulfils the 30-year long demand of people from Kargil, Drass and Ladakh region who have to face massive problems during the winters with their supplies cut massively.
The Zojila tunnel has been planned as a smart tunnel. It will have latest safety features like fully transverse ventilation system, Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), Tunnel Emergency Lighting, CCTV monitoring, Variable Message Signs (VMS), Traffic Logging Equipment, Over Height Vehicle Detection, Tunnel Radio System, etc. It will have pedestrian cross passages at every 250 meter and motorable cross passages and lay-bys at every 750 meter. It will also have emergency telephones and fire-fighting cabinets at every 125 meters.
The 18.63 km approach road from Zojila Tunnel to Z-Morh tunnel will have avalanche protection structures such as catch dams, snow galleries, cut and cover, deflector dam, etc. to make it an all-weather connection between two tunnels.
While initiating the ceremonial blasting for Zojila Tunnel last October, Nitin Gadkari, the Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs, had expressed confidence that the project, though has a six-year completion schedule, will be completed before end of present government's tenure with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the same.