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The Mumbai Project: The Bridge to Tomorrow's Mumbai

India's longest sea bridge could transform our future. But urgent corrections are needed if the 22.5-km Trans-Harbour Link can do to Mumbai what the 30-km Dong Hai Bridge has done to Shanghai. Kiran Wadhwa reports. Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 17:22 IST
Kiran Wadhwa

"A sea bridge is iconic. Once made it becomes the identity of the city, more like instant recall. So, it has to be awe-inspiring, ...we worked at breakneck speed and completed the Dong Hai Bridge in 3-1/2 years." - Andrew Yeoward, Design consultant and technical advisor to the team that built Shanghai's new lifeline

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Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

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Stray lapwings and gulls flap through the humid air as the tide rises and the mudflats slowly disappear near the Rubber Jetty in a decrepit corner of Mumbai known as eastern Sewri. There's no one around but a few ragged boys. On a rare, clear day you can glimpse the high rises of Navi Mumbai, the city that can give India's commercial capital the space and opportunity to reinvent itself into a truly global megapolis.

There's only one problem. It takes the average, vexed commuter two hours to reach Navi Mumbai -- over rutted roads, sometimes paths of mud.
That's why the state government hopes that within a few months, gigantic pillars built with thousands of truckloads of concrete will begin to rise from the mudflats. The pillars will be the foundation of a potentially iconic 21.75 km six-lane bridge -- India's longest -- across the sea, Mumbai's long-awaited link to Nhava across the eastern bay in Navi Mumbai and beyond to the multi-billion dollar sprawl of condominiums and industries planned across the eastern seaboard.

In Shanghai, Mumbai’s global dream, the sturdy 30 km Dong Hai Bridge is the image of the Harbour Bridge. The consultants that made the S-shaped concrete structure seem graceful don’t consider a bridge as a mere connecting link. “A sea bridge is iconic, once made it becomes the identity of the city, more like instant recall. It has to be awe-inspiring. We worked at breakneck speed to finish the bridge ion time within there-and-a-half years,” said Andrew Yeoward, from UK-based consultancy firm Halcrow. Yeoward was part of the technical and design team for the bridge.

If Mumbai is to transcend its 100-year-old infrastructure and begin the journey to metropolitan superstardom, the construction of the Trans-Harbour Link and its equally ambitious cousin, the Eastern Freeway, must begin now.

For 28-year-old Jagdish Sahu, a software engineer, project names are irrelevant. All he cares about is that his journey from his Ghatkopar home to his office Navi Mumbai will be quick and comfortable. “I have to travel via mudpaths and dirttracks of Govandi to reach my office in Vashi after two hours. By then, I’m exhausted and irritable,” he said.

But four years after these projects start (keep those fingers crossed), it will take Sahu only 30 minutes from his home to Navi Mumbai. All he will have to do is get on to the Eastern Freeway — a 11.9-km high-speed corridor that will connect Prince of Wales Museum in Colaba to Ghatkopar — till Sewri. At Sewri, he will get on to harbour bridge and fly to Navi Mumbai just as the crow flies (in this case flamingos). And if he wants to go to Worli for dinner, he can directly get off the bridge onto an elevated road through Acharya Dhone Marg.

“I will buy a new car. It is worth the toll.” beamed Sahu.

Sahu’s car will be one of the 46,480 passenger cars that will find their way on the harbour bridge by 2011. Almost 20 per cent of the traffic crossing the Thane creek will be diverted to the harbour bridge by then. The Rs 4,500-crore project will not allow you to access not a sleepy Navi Mumbai, which never really became another Mumbai, but a new megapolis with special economic zones, tax free enclaves that are virtually private cities, and a state-of-the art international airport.

The SEZ sprawls across 4,377 hectares and the largest portion being developed by Mukesh Ambani, the man who hold the strings of our growing economy. It will be the most important and modern industrial zone to be built in the country.

But, as Anil Deshmukh, Minister for the State’s Public Works Department said, “Without the harbour bridge all development in Navi Mumbai is useless. It is the project of the century that will redefine connectivity.”

Let's translate time into money: Every commuting hour saved is about Rs 100, said Professor S.L Dhingra from the Civil Engineering Department of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. “Each of us will save Rs 300 a day, two ways. And saving time accounts for only one fifth of the money we will save. By 2016, we will save Rs 1000 crore an annum,” he added.

So, using the seabridge will cost you Rs 2.25 per km. That is almost four times than the current travelling cost.

Companies in Navi Mumbai see the bridge as the light at the end of the tunnel. The bridge means greater productivity thus an opportunity to leapfrog their competitors across the world.

“My people are haggard by the time they reach work," said Swaroop Kumar, head of Glenmark, a pharmaceutical company. "The bridge will actually increase their efficiency and sense of well being. We set shop in Navi Mumbai because its pace of growth faster and more organised than Mumbai, but connectivity is a hindrance.”

Their greater embarrassment lies when they have foreign guests, their numbers growing by the day as India makes its strong global pitch. “While Navi Mumbai is worth showing off, the route and time taken from the airport is appalling. Several even ask us why there is no bridge. They like to wrap up meetings by two in the afternoon because they say they want to reach in time for dinner,” said Kumar.

Across the bay in old Mumbai, the urchins settle for the evening, smoking bedis and chatting. The tide is rising over the mudflats and fishing boats return to the old, battered jetty.

The number game:

Cost: 4500 crores
Length: 21.75 km and 25 mts above sea level
Traffic in 2011: 46,580 passenger cars, in 2031: 1,01,581 passenger cars
Reduce distance to south Mumbai by: 15 kms
Travel time reduced by: 1.5 hours
Air pollution reduction: 30 per cent
Noise pollution reduction: 10-12 decibels
Money saved by 2016: Rs 1000 crores
Travel stress reduced by: 90 per cent

Beyond the bridge

The Harbour Bridge will take only 15 minutes to drive through, but making the ride smooth till our beaten-down cars get to the bridge is the challenge for transport authorities. The connectivity of the bridge on either side (called dispersal systems) is another project altogether. The dispersal system in Mumbai will spread across 15 kms in the southern, western and eastern suburbs.

If you live in the eastern and central suburbs till Colaba, the Eastern Freeway will connect at Sewri. If along the west coast, a road will connect Worli to Sewri via Acharya Dhone Marg. At Nhava, the dispersal system will spread across 35 km because of a lack of existing infrastructure. Together, the dispersal systems will cover 100 square km and a population of 12 million people, of which 3.5 million are working population. In the future, there are plans to make a connecting road to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.


Across the ocean….

About 3,000 miles away, a 30 km sea bridge stretched across the East China Sea provides a glimpse of what the harbour bridge will be. It is the Donghai Bridge, a graceful six-lane cable stay structure and the predecessor of the harbour bridge. City infrastructure authorities toured the bridge before they planned the harbour bridge. The Rs 4800 crore Donghai connects Shanghai to Yangshen Port, China’s first free trade port. The Yangshen Port was created to decongest the Shanghai Port and catapult Shanghai’s economy to greater heights, a lot like our Navi Mumbai dream.

“Our greatest challenge was to complete the bridge before the opening of the port because it was the main link. We worked at a breakneck speed and completed it in three-and-a-half years,” said Andrew Yeoward, a technical advisor and design consultant on the team that built the Donghai. Apart from the regular environmental and weather conditions, the design team also considered things like driver fatigue. “Driving on a straight, long bridge along the sea can tire the driver and also make him slip into a lull. There are chances he might fall asleep on the wheel. That is why we introduced a curve in the design to keep the driver alert and also change the view a bit,” said Yeoward. Also, a sea bridge has to be aligned in a way that it does not interrupt navigation on the waters. “It may sound farfetched, but there have been instances of ships colliding with the pillars of the bridge. All navigation routes, even the most insignificant ones, had to be accounted for to design the Donghai,” said Yeoward.

While connectivity and durability are important, one cannot forget aesthetics according to Yeoward. “A sea bridge is iconic, once made it becomes the identity of the city, more like instant recall. So, it has to be awe-inspiring, a bridge that is like a must-drive for anyone who visits the city.”

Is this enough?

The Harbour Bridge is an ambitious plan but there is still scope for improvement.

1. Problem: Six lanes are too few for a bridge this size. Traffic projections show that this bridge will carry 46,580 passenger cars per hour by 2011. With the Special Economic Zone and the second airport at Panvel, that could easily mount to 93,000 cars per hour. Then, the bridge would be congested in 10 years, by 2022.
Solution: A minimum of eight lanes.

2. Problem: No emergency lanes. Any bridge of international standard has to have at least two lanes for emergencies or accidents. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway has two emergency lanes. Both are frequently used, considering the number of accidents on the stretch. The Donghai Bridge, Shanghai’s newest, also has 2 emergency lanes.
Solution: Add two lanes, one on each side of the bridge.

3. Problem: No railway line. There is a line proposed, but that’s in the third phase it’s not certain if it will be built.
Solution: Add the railway line right away, so both the road and the railway can come up together. Only road connections will not be enough for the SEZ and second airport.

The buck stops here

Public Works Department Minister Anil Deshmukh

What is the importance of the Harbour Bridge?
It is very essential for the growth and expansion of Mumbai. It is the biggest challenge we have undertaken and achieving it is a priority. I personally went to China to do the groundwork before we planned the bridge.

What is the current status of the project?
The case Anil Ambani had put because of the tendering process had stalled the project, but now the Supreme Court has allowed him to qualify again in 90 days. So by December, we have two bids and we will then scrutinise it. Once the project starts within four years the Harbour Bridge will become a reality.

For more details... Check out the special on The Mumbai Project