The second international airport is being heralded as the new gateway to Mumbai, but poor connectivity could turn the dream into a nightmare.
The airport will be 30 to 35 km from Mumbai but, with the current transport infrastructure, it could take up to two hours to reach it. The Sion-Panvel Highway is crowded with trucks going to and coming from Navi Mumbai, as well as Pune, the Konkan and Goa.
"Supporting infrastructure is critical. I hope the agencies concerned build infrastructure for better connectivity to the airport," said South Mumbai MP Milind Deora.
Three projects have been lined up to provide fast connectivity to the airport. However, all three - the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), the Sion-Panvel Highway Expansion and the Navi Mumbai Metro - are dormant due to government inaction.
MTHL, 22-km a sea link between Sewri and Nhava in Raigad, is stuck due to a feud between Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) over who should build the bridge. Both have staked claim to the project and have submitted different proposals for it.
"MTHL will improve connectivity to the airport. It is up to the government to decide on who should build it," MMRDA chief Ratnakar Gaikwad said.
In April, then chief minister Ashok Chavan asked Urban Development Department Secretary TC Benjamin to prepare a report recommending which agency should get the project. The report was submitted, but no decision was taken.
The Sion-Panvel Highway, which was to be expanded from six lanes to 10 lanes, was stuck in litigation and work is unlikely to start before next year.
Transport experts said the government is only building additional roads that will put more cars on the roads instead of building an efficient public transport system. "What's needed is a high-volume, high-quality, low-cost public transport system which can get people to the airport. However, the government has no such project planned," said transport expert Ashok Datar. "For a project of this size, you need a functional public transport system in place a year before the project starts," he added.
The only public transport system planned is the Rs 4,000-crore Belapur-Kharghar-Taloja-Kalamboli Metro, which will be extended to the airport in the future. However, this line will help only those coming from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, while those coming from the city will have find their own way through gridlocked traffic.
The new airport is expected to handle 10 million passengers a year in the first phase and 45 million passengers by 2022.