Construction has begun on India’s strategic 8.8-kilometer-long, $363-million Rohtang Tunnel. Built at an altitude higher than 3,000 meters in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, it will provide an all-weather road link across the snow-capped Rohtang Pass. The tunnel will provide year-round road access to the remote regions of Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi Valley in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Conceived in 1983 and faced with many procedural delays, it is now being constructed by the Border Roads Organization under the Ministry of Defense. BRO awarded the project to a joint venture led by Austria’s Strabag A.G., Vienna, with Mumbai-based Afcons Infrastructure Ltd. The work is to be completed by February 2015. Australia-based SMEC International, Melbourne, has been engaged as a consultant by the BRO.

Drilling work using the so-called New Austrian Tunnelling Method has started at the northern portal. It will pass through quartzites, quartzitic schists and quartz-diolite-schist, according to BRO. Overburden will average 600 m, rising to 1.9 km.

A unique feature of the tunnel is the incorporation of a semi-transverse ventilation system, in which large fans separately circulate air in and out of the tunnel’s length. The tunnel, with a horseshoe-shaped cross section, will be 11.25 m wide at road level, providing ample room for two-way traffic and designed to cater to a maximum vehicular speed of 80 km/hr.

With two major snowbound passes along the way—Baralacha La and Thaglang La—the project officials aim to construct a 292-km-long all-weather road called Nimu-Padam-Darcha, via Shinkunla Pass, traversing the remote Zanskar region. That road is estimated to cost an additional $62 million.