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Afghan Lawmaker Criticizes Efforts To Repair Key Tunnel

FILE: A vehicle is seen covered with snow after avalanches killed at least 157 people in Salang tunnel in February, 2010.
FILE: A vehicle is seen covered with snow after avalanches killed at least 157 people in Salang tunnel in February, 2010.

The Afghan government is gearing up to repair a 50-year-old road and tunnel system linking nine northern provinces to the capital, Kabul, in the south.

But Afghan lawmakers are not happy with several government departments in charge of looking after the aging Soviet-built tunnel, which has survived multiple wars and still sees more than 5,000 vehicles pass through it every day.

Kabul has already awarded a $250 million contract to an Australian firm, SMEC, to begin repairing the tunnel starting next year. The project is slated to be completed in 2021.

Lawmaker Habib Afghan, a member of Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, however, wants authorities to account for all the money the parliament has been appropriating to repair the tunnel in recent years.

“During the past seven years, the parliament has approved a special budget for the Salang Tunnel,” he told lawmakers. “If they had been carrying out repairs during this period, we would now have a functioning tunnel able to stay open all year. This would have saved us from so many losses.”

At nearly 3,400 meters high, Salang is one of the highest road tunnels in the world. Its passes beneath a giant glacier. Snowfall and avalanches often force its closure in winter.

Abdul Rahman Salahi, a deputy minister at the Afghan Public Works Ministry, says a complete overhaul of the nearly 3-kilometer tunnel system is planned.

“We are planning to rebuild the tunnel, galleries, support walls, and small and big bridges,” he told lawmakers. “We are also planning to rebuild the road passing through the tunnel and galleries.”

Mohammad Abdul Rajab, head of the Salang Pass Tunnel Maintenance Department, says they are preparing to protect thousands of travelers passing through Salang in winter.

Afghan authorities can currently rescue or provide assistance to 10,000 stranded travelers in Salang.

Rehmatullah Afghan reported this story from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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