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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Escape from snow: Set for early completion, 6.5-km Z-Morh tunnel to link Sonmarg, Srinagar all year

The 6.5-km escape tunnel is ready to be partially opened for controlled traffic around November, giving tourist destination Sonmarg connectivity to Srinagar, as also maintaining supplies through the winter for the first time.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | Sonmarg |
Updated: September 28, 2021 7:06:18 am
Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari will be the first person to travel in the all-weather escape tunnel of Z-Morh main tunnel, connecting Srinagar and Sonmarg, during an inspection here Tuesday.

The 6.5-km escape tunnel is ready to be partially opened for controlled traffic around November, giving tourist destination Sonmarg connectivity to Srinagar, as also maintaining supplies through the winter for the first time.

At 8,960 feet, Sonmarg is covered in snow in the winter months, forcing local residents to shift to Srinagar side. All commercial activity comes to a halt during winter, and due to avalanches, connectivity on Srinagar-Leh highway gets blocked.

The strategically important Z-Morh tunnel will ensure that Sonmarg remains connected and supplies are maintained all year round, according to officials.

“We will complete the tunnel by early next year, well ahead of the scheduled target of December 2023. There are concrete work, etc, remaining,” G S Kambo, executive director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, told reporters here on Monday. “For the first time, there will be connectivity this winter, thanks to the escape tunnel being opened.”

The main tube’s connectivity was achieved last week, while the escape tunnel, built as a safeguard against calamities along the main tunnel, was cleared during summer this year.

For Kashmir Valley, the permanent connectivity to Sonnarg is a first. The tunnel is being built at a cost of Rs 2,300 crore.

Beyond Sonmarg, the 13.5-km Zojila tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar and Ladakh, making for a strategic asset for the Army, may also be completed ahead of its scheduled target of 2026, officials said.

“There are vertical shafts in the tunnel which enable opening of many fronts, so work can take place at multiple place simultaneously, Kambo said. “Besides, we are achieving very good progress — like 30-40 metre excavation and a couple of blasts and tunneling every day. Work is going on at all locations. We are hopeful of completing it before schedule.”

The Rs 4,600 crore Zojila tunnel is being executed by Megha Engineering and Infra Limited, while the Z-Morh tunnel is under execution of engineering major Apco. Gadkari will also inspect the progress of the Zojila tunnel on Tuesday.

The Zojila tunnel is an all-weather alternative to Zojila pass, which closes down in winter, halting all transport, including troop movement and critical Army supplies between Kashmir and Ladakh. The tunnel will solve that problem. At more than 11,000 feet, the bi-directional tunnel is the longest in Asia.

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