MTHL: Mumbai’s bridge across forever | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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MTHL: Mumbai’s bridge across forever

Jan 12, 2024 08:00 AM IST

With the MTHL cutting down travel time between Ulwe in Navi Mumbai to South Mumbai from the 2 hours it takes at present to half hour also throws open the real estate market east of Mumbai, just across 16.5 km stretch of the sea

Mumbai: From the skies, the 21.8-kilometre-long sea-link appears like an umbilical cord that binds the island city of Mumbai to the hinterland. If all goes to plan, the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) or the Atal Setu, to be declared open by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, will help birth a Third Mumbai, as urban planners call it.

A night view of the MTHL- Mumbai Trans Harbour Link Road on the eve of the PM Narendra Modi to inaugurate MTHL on Thursday. (Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times)
A night view of the MTHL- Mumbai Trans Harbour Link Road on the eve of the PM Narendra Modi to inaugurate MTHL on Thursday. (Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times)

The country’s financial capital, home to the largest number of billionaires in India, the creative heart of its soft power, has long been served poorly in terms of infrastructure. For Mumbai’s over 21 million residents, the lack of available land-- 468 sq.km. to be exact, making it 50,000 people per square kilometre-- has meant that the only thing Maximum about the City is the pressure it puts them under.

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In 1965, two architects, Charles Correa and Pravina Mehta, and Shirish Patel, an engineer by training and an urban planner at heart, wrote a paper in an issue of MARG magazine proposing the idea of a New Bombay, east of the existing one. While New Bombay did eventually come up, mired in bureaucratic delays and corruption, their proposal to build a road and rail bridge over the sea from Sewri in the island city to Nhava Sheva where the Jawaharlal Nehru Port would come up, remained on paper. 59 years on, that connector has finally shaped up, in a snazzier and different form though.

Mumbai is in the midst of a $30-billion makeover, and if the city appears like a giant construction site with the contractor at large, it’s because of the staggering scale of the reimagining of its colonial infrastructure. The MTHL is a key piece of that redrawing of the city. There’s also the 360-kilometre-long metro work going on simultaneously as also the coastal road that serves as a parallel road hugging the coast along the city’s north-south axis. But equally ambitious, given the linear geography of the city, is the plan to create a circular east-west connectivity. In addition to the projects mentioned above, there is a road connector underway between Worli in the south west of the city to Sewri on the eastern seafront from where the MTHL starts. There’s also a tunnel being built which will connect Marine Drive to the Eastern Freeway at the point where the MTHL begins. Finally, at the other end of the MTHL in Navi Mumbai across the sea, there is the proposed Chirle-Palaspe elevated corridor which will lead motorists directly to Mumbai’s second international airport which is under-construction and also join it to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. At present it takes 30 minutes to reach the Expressway, the Chirle-Palaspe connector will bring that time down to 5 minutes.

If these projects are indeed ready by next year as expected, they will cool some of the heartburn in Mumbai over losing the competitive edge to GIFT City in Gandhinagar or even to cities like Chennai and Bengaluru. “There is now the potential to create Maharashtra’s own golden triangle connecting Mumbai-Pune-Nashik which is the state’s industrial and prosperous belt,” says AV Shenoy, transport expert and member of the Mumbai Mobility Forum. “Improving connectivity between key economic zones such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the JNPT Port, as also the Mumbai-Goa highway can open up new market and opportunities for Mumbai,” says Sanjay Sharma, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Projects which developed one section of the MTHL.

With the MTHL cutting down travel time between Ulwe in Navi Mumbai to South Mumbai from the 2 hours it takes at present to half hour also throws open the real estate market east of Mumbai, just across 16.5 km stretch of the sea. The state government has planned the ‘Third Mumbai’ at the Ulwe end of India’s longest sea-bridge. This will be developed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA). Part of its mandate is to create a second business hub like the Bandra-Kurla Complex that houses the headquarters of big banks, on a greenfield 150-hectare plot at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai. Towns in Raigad district like Ulwe, Pen, Panvel, Uran, Karjat and Alibaug which has emerged as Mumbai’s Hamptons since the pandemic, are all part of the envisaged Third Mumbai.

A gung-ho Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, believes that the creation of Third Mumbai facilitated by the MTHL can scale up Mumbai’s economy from the existing $140 billion to $ 0.25 trillion. “From residential (luxury and affordable), commercial complexes, data centres, hubs for MNCs and banks, and financial companies to large knowledge parks, third Mumbai will have everything,” says an MMRDA official. A New Town Development Authority (NTDA) is being formed to plan and oversee the development of 323 sq. kms. Around 200 villages, including 80-90 of them under the Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (NAINA) will be a part of the NTDA.

The Third Mumbai will also become the new playground for two of India’s wealthiest men. While Mukesh Ambani already owns a 500-acre complex in Navi Mumbai and possibly other land parcels, Gautam Adani is developing the Navi Mumbai international airport which is part of the 14,300 crore Navi Mumbai Influence Notified Area spread over 370 sq. kms. In Mumbai, of course, while Ambani controls large parts of the Bandra-Kurla Complex, Adani has now taken over the ambitious Dharavi Redevelopment Project, less than 5 kilometres east of BKC.

But it’s not just Ambani and Adani who stand to benefit. Leading developer Niranjan Hiranandani, Managing Director of the Hiranandani Group, who had foreseen Mumbai’s northward growth more than 25 years ago when he built integrated townships in Powai and Thane, was one of the early movers buying large land parcels in Navi Mumbai and Raigad. This includes 500 acres in Panvel and 250 acres in Nagaon and Alibaug. When MTHL finally opens after it was first mooted 18 years ago, it will be another “I told you so” moment for him.

Hiranandani, recently re-elected as chairman of National Real Estate Development Council, says the sea span will be a gamechanger for Mumbai’s economic growth. “I believe it will lead to a quantum leap in the next five years for real estate and it is unparalleled,” he says comparing the effects of MTHL to what one expressway did for Delhi connecting it to Gurgaon in Haryana and NOIDA and beyond in Uttar Pradesh, spurring growth in the NCR. Hiranandani’s acquisition encouraged other developers including Godrej, the Wadhwa group and Adani Realty to acquire 100 acre-plus land parcels in that belt.

Hiranandani cites the example of China to explain the multiplier effect of a housing boom on economy. “China witnessed double digit growth for 10-15 years where they were focused on infrastructure, manufacturing and housing. But, today, while infrastructure and manufacturing continue to do well in China, housing has collapsed plunging their GDP to less than 4%. The construction sector remains the second largest employment generator after agriculture in India.”

Pankaj Kapoor, managing director, Liases Foras, the only non-broking real estate research firm in India, has a word of caution though amid such facile optimism. “Planning authorities should not play the landlord who want to monetise the land. The reason that the creation of New Bombay in the ‘70s and the ‘80s did not ease the pressure on Mumbai was because the planning authority CIDCO chose to monetise the land banks which kept the prices up. The government should allow the market forces to play.”

A recent report by Colliers, ‘MMR Infrastructure Upgrading Real Estate,’ projected nearly 9 million sq. ft of new office supply opening at the Navi Mumbai end of MTHL over the next three years, largely driven by IT, while on the Mumbai end Worli and Lower Parel in central Mumbai are likely to see 5 million sq. ft of new office supply in the same time period.

“This is first time in decades that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is undergoing a transformative infrastructure upgrade liberating it from the growth limitations that comes from the virtue of being a linear city,” Vimal Nadar, Senior Director, Research, Colliers.

Urban planners HT spoke to repeatedly flagged two concerns: Better and affordable public transport and access to affordable housing to make a real transformation in the city. “The government needs to primarily focus on affordable housing and commercial development around MTHL and prevent land sharks and large developers from jacking up land prices. The government also needs to promote public transportation like AC buses on the MTHL,” says Ashok Datar, economist and transport expert. At present the one-way toll on MTHL is 250 for all private vehicles.

Shirish Patel, one of the three original proponents of New Bombay rues that the MTHL has come “50 years too late.”

Patel says, “Growing eastwards would have helped decongest Mumbai. That was the whole idea of proposing the Sewri-Nhava Sheva link, but the government and policy makers allowed growth to move northwards alone. The builders had a self-interest expanding the city northwards, in keeping Mumbai’s land in short supply and profit from its high prices. They feared that eastward growth would open up land and prices could fall in Mumbai.”

The engineer who recently co-authored a comprehensive book, 6 Metros’ comparing urban planning in New York, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo with Mumbai and New Delhi, strongly advocates that the MTHL should integrate public transport so that it goes beyond becoming a showpiece road for Mumbai’s car owners.

“Public transport should be allowed at lower tariffs to truly make this an infrastructure for the aam admi. In many cities, public transport is free but here we expect it to be financially viable by itself. That’s always a mistake. Public transport is a supporting service that helps development and not a money-making endeavour on its own.”

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