Perennial chokepoint: No light at the end of tunnel to Ashram
Months after it was meant to be completed, the tunnel to bypass Ashram Chowk exists only on paperdelhi Updated: Jun 09, 2018 13:32 IST
The Ashram intersection in south Delhi is infamous for being a perennial chokepoint. According to government figures, the intersection sees nearly 3 lakh vehicles every day — this is the same as the combined total of all private vehicles in Ranchi.
To make matters worse, the only hope that Delhiites had of the Ashram nightmare ending — a planned tunnel road to bypass the intersection — is now stuck in a bureaucratic hurdle. Months after its supposed date of completion, work on the project is yet to even begin.
In 2016, the Delhi government’s Public Works Department (PWD) had announced that a signal-free tunnel road would bypass the Ashram intersection to connect Nizamuddin to New Friends Colony. This tunnel road was supposed to be open for public by March 2018, according to official documents.
The announcement of the tunnel road had come as a huge relief for commuters. However, one year and four months after the project was expected to begin, and three months after its projected date of completion, it exists only on paper.
Commuters Hindustan Times spoke to largely agreed that a bypass would make navigating the intersection easier for many, who have no alternative but to wait for several minutes stuck at Ashram intersection.
“This intersection turns into an outright nightmare during the peak traffic hours of morning and evening. On many days, I have been forced to wait for the signal to turn green thrice before I get a chance to cross it,” said Neelkamal Sahai, a Maharani Bagh resident.
Another commuter, Sushant Singh, who said he uses the stretch regularly to reach Connaught Place from his house in Jasola Vihar, said considering the vehicular volume here, this project should be the city government’s top priority.
“Every year, so much money, human and technical resources are spent on this area because of the perpetual jams. If this tunnel can address these problems, then why not implement the project at the earliest,” said Singh.
The proposed project
The idea behind the project was to ease traffic volume in one of the busiest intersections in the city, which forms the backbone of connecting central Delhi, south Delhi, Noida and Faridabad.
The project proposed that commuters be able to take a 750-metre tunnel road after crossing the Nizamuddin Railway Bridge and exit directly near CSIR Apartments on Mathura Road.
Data compiled by the Delhi Traffic Police shows that the intersection witnesses a traffic volume of around 3 lakh vehicles every day. Officials said the traffic here particularly shot up since the Delhi-Noida-Direct (DND) Flyway was made toll-free.
The coming of the signal-free corridor, according to PWD estimates, will help bypass at least 1 lakh of these vehicles from the intersection.
The plan for the project had been approved by both the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure Planning and Engineering Centre (UTTIPEC) more than a year ago and construction had been expected from March 2017.
However, despite the massive relief this tunnel road will bring to the commuters, the PWD is yet to start construction.
“The problem of the Ashram intersection in the sheer volume of vehicles, and a tunnel road will be able to solve that. It will come as a huge relief for the commuters in the long run,” said Dr S Velmurugan senior principal scientist, Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Central Road Research Institute.
Stuck in paper jam
Though the project may be an urgent need for commuters who brave the stretch every day, however, it does not appear to be on the list of priorities for the Centre or Delhi government.
Officials familiar with the matter said that if the Centre or the Delhi government intended to, the work on the tunnel would have already started.
This is made evident with the fact that the Ashram tunnel road does not feature in the list of infrastructure projects proposed for completion in the Delhi government’s ‘Outcome Budget’ this year. The Outcome Budget has every other major project in the city listed, the official said.
December 2015: Proposal prepared for tunnel road across Ashram intersectionJanuary 2016: Approval from UTTIPECFebruary 2016: Preliminary financial estimate prepared for Rs 86.7 croreJune 2016: Revised estimate prepared for Rs 87.5 crore
Senior officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is the nodal agency working with the Union urban development ministry, said there are “other priority projects” apart from the Ashram tunnel for which money needs to be disbursed. DDA vice-chairperson Udai Pratap Singh said, “All projects are equally important... Ashram tunnel road’s number will also come.”
Meanwhile, PWD officials privy to the project said that apart from exchange of files between the department, and the Central and the Delhi governments, there has been no progress so far.
Officials confirmed that since 2016, the PWD has been “exchanging notes and observations” and the process has been stuck since November last year without financial approval from the Centre or the Delhi government. The two are expected to bear the expenses on a ratio of 80:20.
“Construction work could not start as the estimated cost for the project is yet to be cleared. There’s been no progress in the last year,” a senior official said.
The official said once the financial approval is given, the tendering process will begin and the project would take another “12 to 15 months” to complete.
Officials said the preliminary estimates of the expenditure were sent to the Centre as well as the Delhi government for approval last year, but the files came back with “certain observations”. Revised estimates of the project were also sent twice last year, but a final go-ahead is yet to be received.
It was keeping in mind the construction of this tunnel road that the upcoming Ashram station of the Delhi Metro also had to be re-designed. “The rail level at the (Ashram) station was dipped 20m further below, so that in the future this proposed underpass could be constructed above the station concourse level,” the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation said.