Z-Morh tunnel is the first of two tunnels that will ensure connectivity between Srinagar and Ladakh round the year.

Inclement and chilly weather here on Thursday highlighted the importance of the laying of the foundation for construction of the Z-Morh tunnel that will provide all-weather, round-the-year connectivity with the rest of the country.

A stiff breeze, accompanied by rain and snow, delayed the ceremony that was formalised by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways C.P. Joshi and Union Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah.

The weather was symbolic of the harsh winter conditions that sever Sonamarg, Kargil, Leh and Ladakh from Srinagar and the rest of the country till May.

The 6.5 km-long tunnel gets its name from its Z formation between here and Gagangir that would avoid the regions of snowfall and avalanches and ensure connectivity with Srinagar. The two-lane, 10 metre-wide tunnel will be constructed at a cost of Rs. 2,716.90 crore. It will also include an egress of 3.5 metres to be used in emergency.

1,000 vehicles an hour

The tunnel, located 2,637 metres above sea level, will ensure the passage of 1,000 vehicles an hour at an approved maximum speed of 80 km per hour.

The Z-Morh tunnel is the first of the two proposed tunnels, which together will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar-Kargil-Leh and Ladakh.

The second — the Zojila Tunnel — of 13.8 km length just about 20 km away from this point is estimated to cost Rs. 5,500 crore and is likely to be approved by the Union government soon. The foundation for this tunnel is likely to be laid in April.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is executing the project. Its bidding will be finalised in a week or two. BRO DG Lt.-Gen. S. Ravi Shankar said he was confident the project would be completed ahead of the August 2018 deadline.

Supporting these two tunnels are the Chenani-Nashri and Banihal-Quazigund tunnels, which are under construction to ensure connectivity with the valley and Jammu and the rest of the country.

Less travel time

Once all four tunnels are put in place, the journey from Jammu to Ladakh will be reduced from 50 to about 30 hours. The entire stretch will become motorable throughout the year.

“Any tourist can reach Ladakh in less than 24 hours once the tunnel is constructed,” said taxi driver Bilal, who currently makes the trip in about 48 hours.

Besides strategically helping the security forces stationed in Ladakh, it will raise the quality of life and the pace of development of the entire region, including Leh and Ladakh.