What do you get when you put one lakh more vehicles on a six-lane road — the Sion-Panvel Highway — that 86,000 vehicles use every day? The mother of all traffic jams.
Unless the state government gets its act together, that’s what you can expect while traveling to and from the Navi Mumbai airport.
Despite the environmental clearance, the government has no concrete plan to improve connectivity to the airport site, which is 35 km from Mumbai.
The Sion-Panvel Highway is the only road that leads to the site. The government planned to widen it to 10 lanes, but work on it hasn’t begun.
If it’s not ready before the airport, it simply won’t be able to handle the surge in traffic. The most viable alternative is a sea link, but that project too is stuck in red tape and a fight between two government departments. The 22-km Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL), which will connect Sewri in south Mumbai to Nhava near the airport, has been stuck for the past two years due to the face off between Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) over who should build it. The feud has its origins in the political jostling between the Congress, which controls MMRDA, and the NCP, which controls MSRDC.
Politicians across party lines, including Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Congress MP from south Mumbai Milind Deora, have asked that the MTHL be built quickly.
“There is no point in opening the airport unless the MTHL is built,” said Patel.
“You must have transportation systems in place for at least a couple of years before the project begins. In our case, however, the airport was cleared first while connectivity projects are stuck,” transport expert Ashok Datar said. In April, then chief minister Ashok Chavan, deputed Urban Development Department Secretary TC Benjamin to prepare a report saying which agency should get the project. The report was submitted seven months ago, but a decision on the matter is still awaited. The government hopes to start Phase 1 of the airport by 2015, but the MTHL’s construction will take four to six years.
The state’s track record on such projects is not impressive. For instance, the 5.6-km Bandra-Worli sea link took eight years.
“We will ensure that the MTHL is cleared quickly,” Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had said a while ago. There are indications that clearance could be taken up when the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Infrastructure meets after the Assembly session ends later this month.