Endless cycle of traffic chaos at Ashram Chowk
The traffic chaos at Ashram Chowk, instead of getting better, has only become worse.
The Public Works Department (PWD) last month started work on extending the Ashram flyover on Ring Road, even as work on a 750-metre Ashram underpass is going on after missing several deadlines. These two projects running simultaneously has made one of the Capital’s most crucial intersections — one that connects south and central Delhi, and virtually serves as the connection for two NCR cities Noida and Faridabad — a nightmare for commuters.
Experts feared the situation may get even more troubling, with PWD and traffic police officials saying work on the projects will overlap for at least two months, and questioned the decision to start work on a second project despite not finishing the first.
According to S Velmurugan, chief scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), the high traffic volume on Mathura Road and Ring Road should have made the completion of the Ashram underpass project a top priority for the construction agency.
“Once the situation normalised after the Covid-19 lockdown, attempts should have been made to speed up work and complete the project. Authorities should have fast-tracked the project to complete it on time so that the public did not have to go through such traffic logjams. When such important projects get delayed, it not only results in traffic snarls, but the cost of the project is also escalated,” Velmurugan said.
“While undertaking construction at arterial roads such as Ashram and ITO, the focus should be to finish before time and free up the space for traffic. The authorities should have made additional arrangements such as additional manpower at least towards the end of the year to make up for the time lost due to the pandemic,” he said.
Experts also pointed out that instead of “worsening the traffic mess” at intersection, PWD should first devote its resources to the completion of the underpass, and then take up the flyover extension so as to create alternative routes for better vehicular management.
Sewa Ram, professor of transport planning at the School of Planning and Architecture, said that things were bad even when the Ring Road was acting as an alternative route to Mathura Road, where digging work has been going on since January. Now, he said, the intersection will get harder to negotiate.
“The Mathura Road and Ring Road cross each other on the intersection, and if simultaneous work is initiated, there will be no clear route for traffic to move,” he said. “Even if the initiation of the flyover extension has to be postponed a little, the way to go is to wrap up work on one road first and then move to the other. This will make traffic management easier for the agencies.”
While underpass connects Nizamuddin rail bridge with Mathura road near CSIR Apartments,, the flyover extension aims to extend the six-lane flyover from Ashram to DND with ramps for traffic to and from the Sarai Kale Khan bus terminal. The initial deadline of the underpass was December 2020 which has been missed. It has now been extended to April 2020. The flyover extension project will take nearly 18 months to be completed from the date of start of the work which means it has to be completed by June 2022.
The Delhi Traffic Police confirmed on Monday that they received fresh permission requests from PWD to begin digging work on the Ring Road for the extension of the Ashram flyover. Officers admitted it would worsen the already bad situation considerably.
“We are working out a diversion plan. The challenge will be to accommodate work on both — the Ring Road and Mathura Road — because there will be no alternative route to bear the load. In fact, the traffic on the flyover will also be affected now,” said a senior traffic official who asked not to be named.
The official added that they are considering a plan to “divert load” from the Ring Road much before vehicles reach the Ashram intersection. For instance, traffic going towards east Delhi and Noida will be warned of the construction work before they reach the AIIMS flyover, so that they can use Barapullah elevated corridor and avoid Ashram altogether. Similarly, diversions will also be made near the Moolchand flyover for traffic going towards central Delhi and Faridabad.
“However, despite the best laid plans, we cannot deny that till the time work on both roads continues, congestion on this stretch will be a regular feature,” the traffic official said.
On Monday, when HT visited the infamous intersection, traffic jams extended to the entry of the Delhi-Noida-Direct Flyway.
Juhi Kataria, a regular commuter on the route, said that additional barricades were placed on the Kilokri side and on the Maharani Bagh side of the Ring Road about two weeks ago. She said that this made wading through the stretch even more time-consuming.
“Till a month ago, after crossing the intersection, traffic would move relatively smoother. However, now both sides of the Ring Road have barricades, eating up around a lane’s space. Once work intensifies here, traffic will be a nightmare,” she said.
Subhash Chand, head of traffic engineering and safety division at the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), said that traffic is in a mess at the Ashram intersection primarily because of the poor site and safety management by PWD.
“A lot of the traffic jams could have been managed if the construction agencies took the required steps for site management. Since this is an important connection, with high traffic volume, there should have been signage warning commuters of ongoing construction from a few kilometres ahead. This would allow people to rationalise their route, instead of crowding at the intersection,” Chand said.
A PWD official who asked not to be named admitted that things would be bad “for a while” but hoped a traffic plan would make the situation better.
“To intensify flyover construction work, we will require putting barricades in the middle of the road to build foundations and erect piers to support the flyover. This can be done only when we get proper traffic diversion, which we hope to get in a fortnight’s time. We have started widening the road by removing pavements on Maharani Bagh and Kilokri so traffic can be accommodated on this additional space,” the official said.
There was no response from the government and the PWD despite texts and calls.