Mumbai’s road length rose by a measly 250 per cent to 1,930 km in the last 58 years. In comparison, the number of vehicles rose 3,700 per cent to 14 lakh.
The space crunch extends to all spheres of life — 23,000 residents are crammed into every square kilometre, while trains meant for 1,700 commuters carry 5,000 during peak hours.
It’s obvious Mumbai needs to think out of the box to solve its commuting woes. And the 64-kilometre coastline is just waiting to be tapped.
Mumbai’s tryst with sea roads began in 1963 with a report drawn up by US-based planning firm Wilbur Smith. It recommended a road over the sea from Versova to Nariman Point. All Mumbai has managed since then is a half-complete sealink and four others that haven’t gone past the planning/clearance stage.
Mumbai’s first sealink, connecting Bandra to Worli, opened on July 1 after 2,983 days of construction and a five-year delay. The link, expected to attract 90,000 vehicles a day, is carrying merely 30,000 — not even enough for the toll collector to recover his investment.
A high toll rate of Rs 50 (one-way) and an inadequate traffic dispersal system is keeping many prospective users away. “An eight-lane sealink from Bandra to Nariman Point will help solve traffic woes. I don’t understand why anyone should pay Rs 50 to zip to Worli Seaface and then get stuck there,” said Ajay Shewade, a businessman who travels regularly from the suburbs to the city.
The Bandra-Worli Sealink is just one part of the Western Freeway Sealink; the others are a distant dream. The freeway was planned as a three-legged sealink that would take you from Bandra to Nariman Point.
The second leg — Worli-Haji Ali — is stuck because the government can’t decide who should get the contract, even though Reliance Infrastructure has emerged as the preferred bidder.
“We were evaluating the financial viability of the bid. We will take a decision before the code of conduct [for the Assembly polls, scheduled for October, is imposed],” said Public Works Department Minister In Charge of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) Vimal Mundada.
The third leg — the Rs 6,000-crore Haji Ali to Nariman Point link — is in limbo too. The government just can’t decide how it should go about it.
Its finances weak, the government is thinking of cheaper alternatives like a flyover over Peddar Road. “A sealink seems a difficult proposition. A flyover makes more sense,” said a senior MSRDC official.
Here’s one last number that should get you thinking: the number of vehicles in Mumbai is set to reach 16 lakh by 2011.
No wonder the dream of a hassle-free commute into town is in serious danger of turning into a gridlock nightmare.