A car is a symbol of the new middle-class’ aspirations. But for Shankar B (27), a senior manager at a private firm, Mumbai roads have turned this dream into a nightmare.
Every day, he travels from Matunga to Andheri Link Road in his Innova, cursing the pathetic roads and infuriating traffic jams. This daily journey, interspersed with a few halts for meetings, is of a mere 25 to 30 km but it’s enough to ruin his day.
This is the story of Mumbai’s roads, 1,941.42 km in all, of which the island city has 506.48 km, the western suburbs 927.65 km and the eastern suburbs 507.05 km. However, many of these roads are potholed and choked because of flyovers being built over them or because of mega projects like the Metro and monorail.
“We need to enhance mass transport means like the Metro and monorail. Not much can be achieved by simply widening roads. It’ll only result in more traffic,” said Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) chief Ratnakar Gaikwad.
Motorists, though, want more than words. “It takes me 40 minutes to reach Andheri station from my house at Four Bungalows, thanks to the traffic. It only used to take 20 minutes earlier,” said V. Reddy, a businessman.
Barricades dot the roads from Andheri to Ghatkopar, disrupting traffic. They’re there to keep traffic flowing at a safe distance from the construction work for the 11-km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro corridor. Instead, what you have are roads made bumpy by cement spilled by trucks from the Metro site, as well as other construction materials blocking the traffic.
It’s the same story on Dr Ambedkar Road between Sion Hospital and Lalbaug. Five flyovers are being built along this road at a cost of Rs 420 crore. MMRDA has partially opened Sion Hospital flyover, but work is expected to end only by mid-2010. The flyover at Hindmata and King’s Circle will be ready by October 2010, while the one near Bharatmata will be done a couple of months later.
Roads on this stretch have been reduced from three lanes to two lanes, creating chaos.
The situation deteriorates further due to lack of coordination between government agencies and utilities. Fifty-two agencies look after underground pipes, gas lines, power cables and phone lines. The agency maintaining roads cannot start work until all the other agencies allow it. While this tedious process continues, the roads deteriorate further.
This was why, in early 2008, MMRDA dropped the plan to widen the arterial Swami Vivekananda Road.
It then decided not to undertake any new road work in Mumbai and hand over all roads to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Eighteen roads constructed by MMRDA were to be handed over. Of these, 15 have already been given to the BMC to maintain and the one at Juhu Galli will be handed over soon. The Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road and Anik-Panjrapol Link Road are still being built.
The BMC agrees that mammoth projects hamper the quality of roads. “The roads are bound to be affected. The difficult part is to get these roads back to normalcy once the project is complete,” said an official.
Experts said it’s not just the road conditions but also the growing number of vehicles that creates problems. “The average vehicle speed has fallen to 7-8 kmh,” said Gerson Da Cunha, a member of the Road Monitoring Committee dissolved by the high court in 2008.
As per the latest figures, Mumbai has 16.04 lakh vehicles with 350 being added every day.
Transport experts said the root cause for congestion was not just an increasing number of vehicles, but also lack of parking space. Some of them suggested that the government identify areas where the parking need was high and then levy high parking fees there.
‘Problems temporary, a better future is in sight’
Additional metropolitan commissioner, MMRDA
SVR Srinivas is a key player in Mumbai’s transport makeover. As additional metropolitan commissioner at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), he is the one driving major road and other mass transport projects. He spoke to Hindustan Times.
Initially, MMRDA concentrated on road projects, but that affected the quality of roads due to inter-agency conflicts.
We have decided to hand over all road projects to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The BMC can maintain roads on a day-to-day basis. MMRDA has to play a greater role, so we made a paradigm shift by concentrating on transport projects like the Metro and monorail.
Some experts feel that more flyovers will only result in more vehicles.
There is a valid argument that flyovers might increase the number of private vehicles and have an adverse affect. Worldwide, it’s private vehicles that cause traffic chaos. And so we have shifted our focus to mass transport projects.
Work on the Metro and monorail has resulted in barricading of roads and traffic jams.
We have to barricade roads as utility mapping is complicated. There are no proper mapping systems, which makes things difficult while carrying out digging work for flyovers or Metro projects. It’s a problem across the city as underground utilities criss-cross. People should understand that these mega projects are an alternative to congested local trains, on which more than 10 people die every day. If people want a better future, they can afford to put up with temporary difficulties.