Zojila Tunnel set to replace Atal Tunnel as longest in Asia at highest altitude
The upcoming Zojila Tunnel is all set to replace Atal Tunnel as the longest one at highest altitude. The 13-km long tunnel, which aims to replace the mighty Zojila Pass as an all-weather road, will be inaugurated today, April 10, by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. The work on the Zojila Tunnel, which is scheduled to be completed by 2026, is likely to be ready much before the deadline. The tunnel will connect Baltal in Ganderbal district with Drass in Kashmir and will bring down the travel time to less than an hour.
Construction at the Zojila Tunnel is nearly half way through with 40 per cent of drilling completed. The tunnel will bypass the Zojila Pass at an altitude of 11,578 feet on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National highway. It will be a single-tube tunnel with an approach road of 18 kms. "This project is a huge game changer by the government of India. The total length of the project from Sonamarg to Minimarg is 31 km. From Sonamarg to Baltal, it is 18 km, and then the main tunnel from Baltal to Minimarg which is 13 km long," Harpal Singh, Project Head at Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, was quoted by news agency PTI. The company is tasked to construct the tunnel.
The tunnel is being constructed using the new Austrian tunnelling method. “By this method, we have achieved three important things -- the safety of the tunnel, the safety of the work-force, and the speed," Singh said. This is the same process used to construct tunnels in Europe and North America as well.
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Once completed, the Zojila Tunnel will be of immense strategic importance. It will come as a relief for vehicles plying from Kashmir to Ladakh region. The Srinagar-Leh highway remains closed during winters due to heavy snowfall. The tunnel aims to provide all-weather connectivity with Ladakh.
Atal Tunnel near Manali was the first tunnel that provided all-weather road connectivity. The 9-km long tunnel was earlier the longest highway tunnel at an altitude of around 10,000 feet. The new Zojila Tunnel is longer than Atal Tunnel as well as situated at least another thousand feet higher.
The tunnel will also help easing up traffic on the Srinagar-Leh highway. The distance between Baltal and Drass usually takes up to four hours due to the treacherous pass. However, the tunnel will help vehicles cover the distance in just 40 minutes.