At least six transport infrastructure projects are expected to finally take off next year. Should we raise our hopes of seeing an end to our commuting problems or are authorities making tall promises? Dhaval Kulkarni takes a look
It takes every effort on the part of Pratham Das to not let the over an hour-long commute each morning from Chembur to his office in Andheri get on his nerves. What pulls the 35-year-old software engineer through is the hope that one of the half-a-dozen transport infrastructure projects will see the light of day soon. It looks like Das’ prayers will be answered next year. For, 2013 is expected to be a watershed in Mumbai’s transport infrastructure.
The first of the few long-delayed projects providing east-west connectivity, for which crores of rupees have already been spent on concept development and on conducting studies, are set to take off in the next two months. Commuters like Das will have much to cheer about as they will get a number of modes of transport to pick from for a faster east-west commute. “I am looking forward to the completion of these projects which will cut down time spent on commute,” beams Das.
The projects which are likely to be commissioned next year are the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro railway, the Chembur-Wadala phase of the monorail, the Eastern Freeway, the Milan rail overbridge (ROB), the Sahar elevated road and the Santa Cruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) — one of the most delayed infrastructure projects in Mumbai. Together, they may bring about a sea change in the way we travel.
Dilip Kawathkar, joint project director of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), assures that a number of their projects will be completed in 2013. “The 16.8km-long Eastern Freeway, which will ease traffic movement towards the eastern suburbs, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nashik, will run from P D’Mello Road to Ghatkopar in three stages (Orange Gate-Anik, Anik-Panjarpole and Panjarpole-Ghatkopar). It comprises mostly civil engineering components like elevated and at-grade sections, the first urban transportation tunnels in India and rail overbridges.”
Additional metropolitan commissioner Ashwini Bhide expects the Orange Gate-Panjarpole stretch to be ready by January 2013, followed by the Panjarpole-Ghatkopar route by May. “There are no imponderables which remain,” she points out. The freeway is expected to take the load off the eastern express highway.
The SCLR — an important east-west link that will help decongest Sion — is expected to be commissioned after June 2013. “Around 60% of civil works is complete. However, launching of girders above the Central and Harbour Line tracks is yet to be done,” says an MMRDA official. The project, which is partially funded by the World Bank and comprises Mumbai’s first double-deck flyover, has overshot around five deadlines since 2006. Compared to his current predicament, Das will find a trip through the SCLR a breeze; he can get to his office in 17 minutes flat.
The 11.40km-long Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro line, the first such in Maharashtra, has been pegged as the crux of the east-west connectivity plan. The project is expected to be completed next year at a cost of Rs2,356 crore. Though work on the project is likely to be finished by June-July, the actual commissioning depends on when the safety certifications come through, say officials. MMRDA commissioner Rahul Asthana says it is likely that the metro railway will be commissioned in phases from Versova till before the Asalpha station, work on which had been delayed due to right of way issues at the Maheshwar Temple. In such a scenario, the trains will be run till crossovers like the one near the airport road station. Mumbai Metro One Private Limited — which is executing the project — will, however, try and complete the project all the way.
Depending on when the safety certifications are issued, the Chembur-Wadala phase of the monorail is expected to be commissioned between January and March, says Bhide.
Apart from being the first such in India, the 19.29km-long monorail line will be the second-longest in the world after Japan’s 23.8km-long Osaka monorail corridor. Although the MMRDA planned to commission the first phase by January 2013, it may have to push back the date due to delays in work on the stations. But trial runs on the entire stretch from Chembur to Wadala will begin from November. The second phase from Wadala to Jacob Circle (Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk) may be completed by March 2014, says an MMRDA official.
MMRDA officials say work on the much-delayed Milan ROB, which will link SV Road to the western express highway (WEH) and will help commuters bypass the low-lying, flooded Milan subway in the monsoon, will begin by October 15 and is expected to be completed by February next year. The project, which began in January 2008, has overshot its May 2012 deadline.
The around 2km-long Sahar elevated road connecting the highway to the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, which is being jointly constructed by the MMRDA and the Mumbai International Airport Limited, is likely to be completed in May-June 2013. A part will be opened a little earlier in March-April. The project will help passengers travel seamlessly from the WEH to the airport.
Transport analysts and activists are not buying into claims that these projects will spell an end to many of commuters problems. They want the planning to be more holistic. “Most projects are not planned well,” argues activist Jitendra Gupta of Citizens’ Transport Committee, adding that these projects will “help in part, but better planning and implementation is necessary.” He says the first phase of the monorail does not pass through a densely populated area and suggests that it, instead, should have been executed on the western and eastern express highways.
Ashok Datar, a transport analyst from the Mumbai Environment Social Network, is sceptical that any of the projects, except the Eastern Freeway, will be commissioned in 2013. “The metro rail will help ease things up if executed properly, but the monorail will cause a marginal difference as it passes through an area with little traffic,” he points out, adding that the Eastern Freeway will be of little use to public transport.