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Exit sea links?

mumbai Updated: Mar 14, 2011 01:11 IST
Zeeshan Shaikh

It was in 1962 when the idea of building roads parallel to Mumbai’s coast was first floated by the American consultancy firm Wilbur Smith. Only 49 years later has the idea gained momentum, giving the jitters to corporations that bet crores on building costly sea links.

The city’s bureaucrats, who for years pushed sea links as the solution for the metropolis’ traffic problems, now say they prefer coastal roads.

Coastal roads, laid either on reclaimed land from the sea or bridges close to the shore on stilts, are cheaper and can be built faster. The only impediment: environmental clearance.

The financial burden of the roads will be passed on to motorists in the form of toll. But that too will be lower than that charged by sea links.

Corporations hoping to earn crores by building sea bridges are tense and many executives can be seen around the state government offices or that of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) pushing their case.

“If a coastal road can be built at one-third the cost of a sea link, why should we choose the costlier option?” said MSRDC vice-chairman and managing director Bipin Shrimali.

If the environment department gives its go-ahead, a half-complete 200-m portion of the Bandra-Worli sea link’s north-bound deck could be the only reminder of Mumbai’s tryst with other sea links. This stretch was part of the structure that would connect the Bandra-Worli and Worli-Haji Ali sea links. But the Worli-Haji Ali sea link may never be built if MSRDC is allowed its coastal road.

The 3.3-km coastal road would stretch from Priyadarshini building at Worli till Samudra Mahal near Haji Ali. For this six-lane road, MSRDC wants to reclaim 55m to 60m of land.

A bridge standing on stilts would run behind Haji Ali dargah and land near Mahalaxmi temple.

MSRDC would also construct a rotary dispersal near Haji Ali to access and exit the road.

MSRDC is thinking of two alternatives from here on. The first: extend the coastal road till Priyadarshini Park and build an underground tunnel from Priyadarshini Park till Wilson College. The second: a tunnel from Mahalaxmi temple to Wilson College.

Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) planned to construct an underground cut-and-cover tunnel from Wilson College to Nariman Point but has now kept the idea on hold as it believes that the existing roads are wide enough to handle traffic for the next two decades.

Though the state is thinking of dropping its plan for sea links for inter-city commutes, there is little progress on the proposed sea link connecting Sewri to Nhava. It is unable to decide whether the task of building the sea link should go to MSRDC or MMRDA.

Interview Bipin Shrimali, MSRDC vice-chairman and managing director

'Coastal roads more cost-effective than sea links'

Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) vice-chairman and managing Director Bipin Shrimali said he prefers coastal roads to sea links as they are cheaper to build. But a lot depends on environmental clearances that are still awaited.

By when can we see the sea links and coastal roads?
By 2015, the links stretching from Versova till Nariman Point should be complete.

Have you decided whether you prefer sea links or coastal roads?
We prefer coastal roads, but we need clearances from the Maharashtra Coastal Zonal Management Authority (MCZMA), land reclamation for coastal roads or roads on stilts are permissible. Once MCZMA says what is legal, we will forward the proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forests for clearance.

Sea link plans were dropped in favour of coastal roads. Why the sudden change of plan?
The idea to explore the possibility of coastal roads came after the implementation of the new Coastal Regulation Zone laws, which favour such projects. Secondly, coastal roads are cheaper — we can build such structures at nearly one-third the cost of sea links.

What if Reliance, roped in to build the Worli-Haji Ali sea link, refuses to build a coastal road?
We have not spoken to them about this as we are awaiting MCZMA clearance. We will speak to them once we get a green signal for coastal roads. The terms of the contract are clear — both parties can back.

What if Reliance claims damages for alterations to the contract?
As per the agreement, even if it claims damages, the amount we will have to pay would be minuscule compared to the savings made from building a coastal road.