The Karnataka government headed by chief minister Siddaramaiah has been talking about turning ‘Bengaluru into Singapore’. The latest project in focus: A mega steel flyover that is supposed to make it easy for commuters, especially those travelling from or via Vidhan Soudha, the state legislature building, to reach the airport.
Expected to be one of the longest flyovers in Asia, the six-lane steel flyover connecting Basaveshwara Circle near Raj Bhavan to Hebbal, a key junction on the way to the airport would be 6.7km long and cost Rs 1350 crore.
While faster connectivity to the airport in traffic-plagued Bengaluru has been a key concern, Bengalureans nevertheless are heaping scorn on this idea. In fact, the state government seems to have relented in the face of stiff public opposition and has put the tender process related to the proposed controversial steel flyover on hold.
Following a meeting with many urban experts from the city, Bengaluru development minister KJ George told media that the government will hold public consultations with civic groups before finalising the project. But why are civic groups so vehemently opposed to an idea that, on paper at least, purports to facilitate their important commute to the airport?
Public oppose ‘pumping money to private road’
CM Siddaramaiah, who had announced the project in the 2014-15 budget, recently said that the project would make transport to the Kempegowda International Airport easier. However, citizens and experts in Bengaluru were not impressed.
A petition against the project soon went up on Change.org, while some organisations are gearing up to file a PIL soon. The sentiments of those opposing the project is evident from the petition posted by Srinivas Alavilli, a Lok Satta activist, which asks Siddaramaiah to stop the ‘VIP steel flyover’ and instead invest in public transport. Within two days, 679 people had signed the petition.
Vinay Sreenivasa of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), an NGO, questions why the newly constituted Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), which is supposed to be the overarching planning body for Bengaluru, is not involved with planning the project. Despite the existence of MPC, it was the BDA Technical Advisory Committee that approved the project. Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar has made the same point, calling the project “contractor and politician driven”.
The key point raised by citizens, urban planners, engineers and environmentalists is that the project is a huge waste of public money, and that it will encourage private transport options, benefitting only a very small percentage of the population.
Urban expert Ashwin Mahesh lists what else Rs 1400 crore can buy for the city, instead of the steel bridge - either 4000 more buses, or 300 km network of high-quality footpath etc. “I’m sure there are many more examples we can put forward. Somehow, six km of roads that will anyway be clogged, using a technology that has only been tried by minor communist states like Vietnam (it was a disaster there too), and designed by BDA of all institutions... it’s beyond words,” says Mahesh.
‘Flyovers don’t solve congestion’
Sathya Sankaran, a founding member of the community group CiFoS (Citizens For Sustainability) and of the civic group Praja RAAG considers flyovers a poor solution within cities. “Flyovers introduce lane merges; a six lane suddenly becomes two lane. More mergers create more congestion. Flyovers are efficient only on highways or roads like the Peripheral Ring Road.”
Three existing flyovers, one underpass and two skywalks will have to be demolished for the steel flyover project, yet another instance of poor planning. Another startling example is that the very alignment where the steel bridge is going to be built, is the same one marked for another flyover between Hebbal Junction and Silk Board Junction -- the northern and southern points on the city’s Outer Ring Road.
A project junked by experts still makes it to tendering stage!
Vinay Sreenivasa says that the BDA is violating its own Master Plan through this project; the project was not a part of its Revised Master Plan-2015, and BDA did not call for public consultation.
After many media reports and public criticism, on June 27th the BDA called for suggestions from public on the project. The report on this appeared in many newspapers on the 28th, while the last day for sending suggestions was June 30th.
No information about the project - Detailed Project Report (DPR), traffic study etc - was placed in the public domain, though the BDA claimed to have been studying the issue for a year. Citizens were expected to send suggestions without even knowing the project details.
Project on hold, but not dead!
While the steel flyover plan has not been a favourite among members of the state-appointed Bangalore Blueprint Action Group (BBPAG) too, the group which includes corporate leaders like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and civic expert RK Misra have proposed an alternative route for an elevated way.
Ashwin Mahesh reacts to this: “The points on which people opposed the flyover were that (a) money should be spent to promote sustainable options and not on infrastructure. (b) there should be wide consultation on an idea before it is decided and acted upon, and (c) it should be part of an overall plan for the city. The government has re-interpreted this as “It should not be on Bellary Road”.”
‘There are cheaper solutions’
Citizens are pointing out that there are easier and cheaper solutions to make airport access better and faster. Sankaran suggests developing other approach roads to the airport from different directions in the city, such as Nagawara, Thanisandra and Goraguntepalya, creating bus lanes or extending the commuter railway network till the airport.
It’s not that the government has not considered these alternatives. Over the last few years, the government has been considering developing other approach roads and extending Metro and Monorail to airport. In fact the government even sanctioned Rs 31.5 crore last October to develop three roads to the airport. But contracts keep going to questionable mega projects.
Speaking of ambitious projects, the first steel bridge proposed in the city is yet to take off. This project supposed to come up on JC Road, announced over a decade back, gets partly resurrected every now and then though.
(This story has been published through an arrangement with Oorvani Foundation/Open Media Initiative)