As tol by Chetan Agarwal, environmentalist and resident of Gurgaon, to HT
Tolls play an important role in financing highway projects but if traffic is beyond a certain level, then the externalities of toll plazas in terms of time wasted, fuel consumed and incremental air pollution make them an inefficient and counterproductive instrument for financing roads.
The Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway is a lifeline for the National Capital Region but has claimed the lives of hundreds of pedestrians and motorists.
The lack of footover bridges, zebra crossings and pedestrian underpasses are major causes but the real problem is the two toll plazas.
The negative effects of the toll plazas are numerous. Commuters waste anywhere between one minute to an hour at the toll plaza, depending on the traffic rush. An average of six minutes per trip is wasted.
According to a conservative estimate, one litre fuel is wasted per hour if commuters keep their engines on during traffic jams. So, an average 0.1 litre is wasted per trip.
Burning one litre fuel leads to 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide emissions (2.3kg for petrol and 2.5kg for diesel). Based on these numbers, it is estimated that fuel worth Rs 54 crore is wasted every year due to snarls at the toll plaza.
Additionally, the carbon dioxide generated due to idling at the toll plaza is to the tune of 22,812 tonne per year. To compensate for this loss, afforestation of 3,729 acres would be required on a permanent basis. The loss of tree cover will increase at the same rate at which traffic increases at the toll plaza.
Rising healthcare cost due to poor air quality is an additional burden which has not been computed by any survey. Creating a green zone around the toll plaza may help partially absorb the air pollutants but the cost would be more than Rs 10,000 per acre annually.
The Haryana government and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) could implement some corrective measures.
The authorities must set up a permanent air quality monitoring station at the toll plazas, undertake environmental impact assessment and a cost benefit analysis of the toll plaza as compared with alternate options for financing the highway and create forests in open spaces around the toll plazas. While implementing these measures will inculcate high cost, government authorities must make plans to get rid of the toll plazas.