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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014

Bridges, roads in troubled waters

Saurabh Katkurwar, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, February 12, 2013
First Published: 01:03 IST(12/2/2013) | Last Updated: 01:33 IST(12/2/2013)

For a city with a vast coastline, and where the current modes of transport are inadequate for an ever-growing population, Mumbai has so far failed to make use of the sea to build alternate transport systems.

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Ambitious projects that aim to link the island city to the suburbs and satellite towns through bridges, sea links and ferries promise to change the way you commute and unburden city roads, but hurdles and the long wait for clearances have led to endless delays. Now, after decades of planning and several false starts, a few of Mumbai's coastal transport projects are finally inching towards completion.

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Ferrying across the city
By the end of 2014, you could hop on to a catamaran at Borivli and reach Nariman point in just 40 minutes. And while this water ride costs a steep Rs230-Rs300, it would help you avoid endless traffic jams and a lengthy commute. On the eastern coast, you could get from Ferry Wharf to Nerul in Navi Mumbai in a record 30 minutes.

The mass transit project, recommended by a state-appointed group in 1983, saw several failed bids and trouble over clearances. Finally, five months ago, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) finalised bids for the construction of nine jetties (or stops) along the western and eastern coasts. Once this gets the state's approval, jetties will take a year and a half to build, and cost Rs1,300 crore.

But even as the plan seems to be taking shape, its completion depends on whether the cash-strapped MSRDC can raise the funds required to deliver on its promise.  The project also needs to get environmental clearances from the Centre. The Union ministry has asked the MSRDC to conduct a public hearing and a detailed Environment Impact Assessment of the projects.

Bridging the gap between mumbai and the mainland
A 22-km freeway, the longest in the country, promises motorists a smooth ride from Navi Mumbai to the island city through a bridge over the sea.

After two failed bids, the Mumbai Transharbour Link (MTHL), which will connect Sewri to Nhava in the mainland, is on track, but you'll need to wait for another five years at least to zip across this six-lane bridge which will cut short your commute by around 50 minutes.

The ambitious sea link will also encourage the development of Navi Mumbai, Raigad and other far-flung areas. With green clearances in place and an assured Viability Gap Funding (VGF) from the Centre, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is expected to zero-in on a private player to build the link by year-end.

"We have received environmental clearance for acquiring land from the project under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Act. We are mapping the land now, and will submit this to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). We expect the bidding process to start in six months," said Sharad Sabnis, chief engineer, MMRDA.       

Cruising along west coast
The Western Freeway project envisioned four sea links connecting the business hub of Nariman Point to the busy Versova in the western suburbs. Of these, only the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL) is operational, while the rest of the bridges have been stalled by controversies and delays, with different state agencies at cross purposes.

At the heart of this controversy reportedly lies the  ambitious 35.6-km coastal road project - which also plans to link the island city to the western suburbs through bridges, sea links and tunnels. The project, is considered to be a favourite of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who also heads the MMRDA The Western Freeway project, on the other hand, is being undertaken by the MSRDC, led by the NCP. 

The 8-km BWSL took eight years to complete. Its extensions - from Haji Ali to Worli, from Bandra to Versova, and a proposed link from Nariman Point to Haji Ali, will take even longer to complete, if they take off at all. Of these, the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link will be operational in 2017, at the earliest.

The Bandra-Versova sea link has finally got the environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) but its fate depends on that of the state's coastal road project, which, too, is yet to take any concrete shape.

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