14 years in the making, Delhi’s Signature Bridge is still a project under construction
More than a decade after the idea for India’s first asymmetrical bridge was proposed, repeated delays have stalled what was meant to be a new icon for the city. A look at what has been holding the project up.delhi Updated: Jun 06, 2018 09:20 IST
In 2004, when the Delhi government proposed to build the country’s first asymmetrical bridge to rid north Delhi of its traffic woes, Apple founder Steve Jobs was yet to come up with the first iPhone. The current Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli was not even 16, and played in the under-19 team. The 205 km Yamuna Expressway was just a sketch on paper.
In the 14 years since, Delhi has had five state elections. A lot has changed but the construction of the 657m-long Signature Bridge over the Yamuna is still a work in progress, way past its deadline of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The delay, more importantly, has put the load of Bhajanpura and Ghaziabadbound traffic on the over 100-year-old ailing Wazirabad Bridge. HT takes a look at the whys and hows behind the delay of the Signature Bridge.
A commuter’s travails
Rajesh Kumar takes an extra hour each day to reach his workplace at Majnu Ka Tila in north Delhi from his home in Gokulpuri, north-east Delhi. His route is quite unlike the snazzy roads of Lutyens’ Delhi — he has to trudge through muddy terrain and make his way over a pontoon bridge just wide enough for one car.
Close to this floating bridge, which have wooden planks coming off it, is the Signature Bridge – the reason for all of Kumar’s commuting misery.
“I had to reach office early morning but I was stuck in traffic for almost an hour near Khajuri Khas. The traffic diversions, put up due to the construction of Signature Bridge and the repair on Wazirabad Bridge, have been in place for years now. I reached office two hours late and the situation has been the same for several years now,” Kumar said.
According to former PWD engineer-inchief Sarvagya Srivastava, Wazirabad Bridge, a barrage bridge built by the British, is the second oldest in the city after Loha Pul (a rail and road bridge).
Highlighting on the need to have more bridges on the Yamuna, Srivastava said even the Signature Bridge would not be enough to cater to the burgeoning traffic.
“Going by the present traffic volume in the city, Delhi requires at least 23 to 24 bridges across the Yamuna. If one goes by the population density, there should be a bridge every 500m of the river,” he said.
The Signature Bridge, once completed, will be the first asymmetrical cable stayed bridge in the country. The 35.2-metre wide bridge will have a bow-shaped steel pylon with a height of 154 metres — twice the height of Qutub Minar.
It is expected to reduce travel time by at least half an hour for commuters going to Ghaziabad via Khajuri Khas, Yamuna Vihar from Wazirabad, Timarpur, Mukherjee Nagar and Burari.
- Work on the iconic bridge came to a complete standstill in April this year
- Workers abandoned project due to alleged non-payment to contractors
- Govt ordered a third-party audit of the project as two govt depts were engaged in tussle over funding
- On May 22, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia visited the project site for inspection
- A day after the inspection, Sisodia, in a strongly worded report, criticised Delhi chief secretary Anshu Prakash and other heads of departments involved with the project for not accompanying him to the site
- On May 23, Sisodia directed chief secy Prakash, principal secretary (PWD) Manoj Parida and principal secretary (finance) Renu Sharma to bring revised estimates of the DTTDC, vetted by CPWD, before the expenditure finance committee (EFC). The EFC meeting is yet to happen
- On May 29, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the construction site, assured citizens that there would be no problem of funding for the project
- Kejriwal announced fresh deadline saying the project would be completed by October 2018
People travelling from Timarpur and ISBT towards Khajuri Khas, Bhajanpura and other neighbouring areas are the most affected by the inordinate delay. But residents near the bridge site would argue that they are the most affected lot.
Rajendra Singh, a resident of Majnu Ka Tila, which is near the site, said the problem is not snarls but also dust pollution from the “perennial” construction activities. “The entire area is a dust bowl. You park your car here for a few hours and it will be covered in dust. They (authorities) should regularly sprinkle water in and around the construction site so that dust is controlled,” Singh said.
According to officials of Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) — the agency responsible for the project — construction resumed on May 29 after it was stopped in April due to a fund crunch.
Currently, the Wazirabad Bridge and a makeshift pontoon bridge across the Yamuna are the only routes between north-east and north Delhi.
Conceptualised in 2004, the Signature Bridge project was approved by the Delhi cabinet in 2007. Construction was to have started that very year, but it took off only by 2010, the original completion date. Officials explained away this delay saying the project had failed to get an environmental clearance. That nod finally came in 2011 and the deadline was revised to December 2013. The completion date was later pushed to June 2016 and then to July 2017.
In July 2017, the Aam Aadmi government released Rs 100 crore for the project and set a new deadline of March 2018, which was further pushed to April 2018, June 2018, and now, to October 2018.
“The construction has resumed, which was stopped due to fund crunch, and reached its last lap and at least 120 working days are needed to complete it. Last November, the work was stopped by the National Green Tribunal owing to severe levels of pollution in the city,” Shishir Bansal, chief project manager, said.
Constant delays have escalated the cost of the project. Initially, it was estimated to cost Rs 887 crore, which rose to Rs 1,131 crore in 2013. The DTTDC in 2016 sent a revised estimate of Rs 1,575 crore to the government for approval and the government released Rs 1,414 crore. The public works department (PWD) sought an expert opinion by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) on its demand for an additional Rs 161 crore.
“The CPWD endorsed the demand and funds are expected to be released soon,” a PWD official said on condition of anonymity. To resolve funding issues between the PWD and the DTTDC, the Delhi government’s finance department has also suggested a third-party audit of the estimates.