Oversights that cost Gurugram 12 underpassesUpdated: Dec 10, 2018 14:46 IST
As the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) plans to construct a new underpass in the city, this time at the HUDA City Centre (HCC) junction, the authority would do well to take a closer look at other such structures in the city, which compounded the commuters’ problems instead of addressing them.
In the last 21 months, 11 underpasses have been thrown open to the public. Authorities had hoped that the underpasses would reduce vehicular congestion and ensure safer, smoother travel. However, the structures have been riddled with problems, such as lack of power supply, poor drainage, improper signage and speeding.
All of these problems should be studied by the GMDA to ensure the underpass at the city’s busiest intersection has minimum ripple effect on other intersections and feeder roads in the area.
Four NHAI underpasses on Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway (Undoing: Hasty completion)
For the underpasses built at Hero Honda Chowk, Signature Towers, Rajiv Chowk and near Medanta–The Medicity, the problem began at the inception itself.
On September 11, 2016, the foundation stone was laid by Union road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. At the time, Gadkari had announced that he has directed officials of the National Highways Authority of Indian (NHAI) to complete the project in 15 months instead of the stipulated deadline of 30 months. This later proved to be NHAI’s undoing.
On August 13, 2017, NHAI officials opened the unidirectional underpass at Rajiv Chowk, the Signature Towers underpasses on January 26, 2018, and the Hero Honda Chowk underpass on April 29, 2018.
However, in the months that followed the NHAI officials had admitted on the condition of anonymity that they had compromised on multiple aspects, including power and drainage, while trying to meet the early deadline.
“There was immense pressure from the NHAI headquarters in New Delhi to meet the deadlines set by the Union minister. As a result, we had to contend with temporary measures with regard to electricity and drainage system by using diesel generators and placing motor pumps respectively,” an NHAI official responsible for maintenance of the underpasses said requesting anonymity.
Hero Honda Chowk underpass (Undoing: Drainage)
On August 28 this year, in the aftermath of heavy rain, the Hero Honda Chowk underpass had to be shut for nearly 50 hours as it was submerged under 50 million litres of run-off rainwater.
It took seven fire tenders and five motor pumps to drain the underpass, and 60 MCG sanitation workers to clear the deep layer of sediments. Once the water had been drained, seven vehicles were also pulled out of the underpass with the help of hydra cranes.
In the aftermath of the incident, both GMDA and NHAI failed to take responsibility. The GMDA blamed the waterlogging on pump sets that were supposed to turn on automatically in case of such a situation. The NHAI, responsible for maintenance of the underpasses, stated that the pumps were working but were rendered ineffective due to heavy inflow of water.
An expert committee formed by the GMDA to investigate the incident concluded that the underpass was not connected to any master drain, built by the Haryana Shahri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP), formerly Huda.
GMDA superintending engineer (retired) Lalit Arora, one of the members on the expert committee, said, “There are five drains in the Hero Honda Chowk area. It was found that two of the drains parallel to the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway were not connected to any master drain. Hence, on August 28 rainwater started flowing from these drains towards the underpass. Additionally, with the underpass drain also not connected to any master drain, rainwater remained inside the underpass.”
Suggesting a permanent solution to the problem, Arora said that aside from connecting the two drains on NH8 and the underpass’ outlet to a master drain, waterlogging can only to end with the completion of widening work of the Badshahpur drain at Khandsa village, where the drain’s width reduces from 30 metres to 10 metres flooding the Hero Honda Chowk area anytime its rains heavily.
Work on the widening project, which started in 2016, is expected to be completed before monsoons next year.
Rajiv Chowk, Signature Towers underpasses (Undoing: Drainage and power supply)
While the Hero Honda Chowk underpass was plagued by waterlogging, it was discovered earlier this year that the underpass at Rajiv Chowk and at Signature Tower were causing waterlogging in the areas around them.
Throughout the monsoons, Choudhary Bakhtawar Singh Road, next to the Rajiv Chowk underpass, and the area around Signature Towers underpass remained heavily waterlogged. A closer look at the problem by the officials revealed that the underground channel drains at both the points were covered during construction.
While officials have been able to identify drainage channels near the Rajiv Chowk underpass recently, the location of the ones at Signature Towers remains a mystery.
Another problem in the two underground structures is that of a reliable power connection. As a result of the darkness at underpasses, they have became notorious for road accidents, many fatal.
After three fatal accidents between March and July this year and resulting public uproar, In September, deputy commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh had cautioned NHAI officials at a road safety meeting that they would be booked in case of another accident was caused due to lack of illumination.
In response, the NHAI officials had once again said the project deadline did not give them enough time to secure a direct power connection from the Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitram Nigam (DHBVN). They added that they were having to “make do with diesel generators”, despite the machines being prone to outages. It was only in July that the DHBVN finally provided a direct power connection, but were yet to provide a 24x7 power backup, officials said.
“Despite repeated reminders, the DHBVN has not provided NHAI with a separate power connection to sub-stations which would ensure uninterrupted power supply,” NHAI project director Ashok Sharma said.
DHBVN officials, however, passed the blame on NHAI. DHVBN superintending engineer KC Aggarwal said, “We have received the NHAI’s request for establishing an alternate power connection to a substation, but they have not listed the specifics of the estimated power load. As a result, we cannot initiate our feasibility study.”
Bidirectional Rajiv Chowk underpass (Undoing: Absence of rumble strips)
Another problem that has emerged after the construction of 11 underpasses is that of speeding–a violation that especially poses serious concerns in the bidirectional Rajiv Chowk underpass, which has no rumble strips or speed breakers at the mouth or inside. Thus, the potential to speed and therefore meet with accidents is quite high.
On June 26, a 30-year-old man died and his cousin was severely injured after the front tyre of their car burst and the driver lost control over the vehicle. Eyewitnesses said the car was being driven at a very high speed and turned turtle several times before coming to a halt.
Under-construction IFFCO Chowk underpass (Undoing: Drainage)
Although the IFFCO Chowk underpass is yet to be completed—a 55-metre stretch of land is stuck because of a legal battle over a petrol pump that stands in its alignment—problems have already started emerging.
In September, seven feet of rainwater accumulated in the half-complete structure, threatening its foundation and raising fears that the overlying MG Road could cave in. NHAI officials then installed motor pumps inside the underpass, hoping to permanently evade similar fears in future.
Seven underpasses at Golf Course Road-Cyber City (Undoing: Poor signage)
The 8.3km stretch between Shankar Chowk and Ghata T-point has come to be defined by underpasses. Seven such structures have been opened along the stretch since March 2017. Of these, four are unidirectional. They provide passage from the e-way service lane near Moulsari Avenue Metro station to IFFCO Chowk, from Cyber Hub to Cyber City, from Cyber City to Cyber Hub and from DLF Phase-2 Metro station to IFFCO Chowk. The three bidirectional underpasses provide connectivity between Cyber City and Golf Course Road, DLF Phase-1 and DLF-5 and DLF-5 and AIT Chowk.
Apart from the latter two, all the others, however, have a common problem – poor signage. These are not only poorly placed, but are also small in size making it difficult for commuters to check for directions, missing turns and having to drive around for kilometers before getting back on the right road.
“I once missed the signage after turning towards Cyber City from the e-way service lane. I was supposed to take a left immediately after Cyber City for Cyber Hub, but could not spot the sign. Utterly confused and directionless, I had to endure 25 minutes of traffic to reach Cyber Hub,” Sushant Lok 1 resident Siddharth Mallik said.
Sikanderpur underpass (Undoing: Gap in median)
On May 6, two people were killed and a woman was severely injured inside the Sikanderpur underpass (Cyber City-Golf Course Road underpass) after their taxi collided head-on with an SUV coming the wrong way at a high speed.
The accident alerted authorities to the gaps in the median that ends just before the underpass, creating scope for accidents —the SUV driver had intended to take the wrong side so that he could eventually go towards Bristol Chowk. Following the accidents, authorities fenced the medians to ensure commuters can’t enter the wrong carriageway.
Genpact Chowk underpass (Undoing: AIT Chowk)
The DLF Phase 1-DLF 5 underpass at Genpact Chowk has a unique problem created by a narrow roundabout at AIT Chowk, some 2km down the Golf Course Road.
This roundabout, where traffic merges from Golf Course Road, the Gurgaon Faridabad Road and Sector 56, is ill-equipped to handle the added volume of vehicles coming from the underpass. This renders the underpass redundant for reducing congestion on the Golf Course Road.
Traffic experts estimate the roundabout is capable of dispersing 25,000 vehicles. After the underpass was opened, this figure increased to 40,000.
Additionally, after the underpass was opened the u-turn on the road was closed leaving commuters with no choice but to go to AIT Chowk to turn right. The closing of this U-turn also increased the traffic volume at the AIT Chowk.
The issue became evident on March 10, when the underpass was inaugurated and snarls at the roundabout led to congestion on the Golf Course Road that took four hours to clear. On March 13, the underpass was closed and opened for 17 days when a right turn opposite Park Drive was created for commuters to take a u-turn.
While the opening of the u-turn has reduced congestion to some extent, gridlocks extending from AIT Chowk to Genpact Chowk underpass are common, making the underpass redundant.
“Authorities need to realise that before constructing underpasses they need to take into account certain things. First, is it necessary? Second, if an underpass is indeed the solution? Once these questions have been answered, they need to factor the structure’s sturdiness, power supply, drainage, signage and so on. It is equally important that authorities leave scope for making alterations, if the construction of the underpass is leading to problems such as traffic violations,” said Sarika Panda Bhatt, the programme coordinator of Haryana Vision Zero.
Bhatt was extremely critical of the decision of constructing underpasses in the city. She said underpasses do not necessarily guarantee that traffic problems will be solved. Instead, they simply shift the congestion to another point, she said.
Dr (prof) Sewa Ram of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) and an expert of transport network and systems design, said the problem with underpasses in Gurugram is that focus is given to a particular point, not the entire corridor, thereby defeating the purpose of streamlining traffic movement.
“Authorities only planned to decongest certain choke points and zeroed in on underpasses as the solution. The problem of this approach is that the nearby road network is still incapable of dispersing the volume of vehicles. Hence, the underpasses only help achieve momentary relief. Instead, authorities should consider specific traffic corridors to execute engineering changes instead of specific points, as the former would bring about the desired change of reducing travel time,” Dr Sewa Ram said.
Talking about their plan for the HCC underpass in light of these problems, GMDA officials said these points are being taken into account before beginning construction.
“The GMDA took into account all the factors before floating the RFP for construction at HCC. Electricity connection with 24x7 backup, proper drainage system and installation of motor pumps have all already been discussed and added to the initial design plan,” GMDA superintending engineer for projects and infrastructure Jitender Mittal said.
As per the Request For Proposal (RFP), floated on November 28, the unidirectional underpass will be 705 metres in length and will be meant for traffic going from Signature Towers towards Subhash Chowk. Apart from the underpass, officials also intend to construct a bidirectional flyover, which will be 270 metres long and will run between the sector road and MF Husain Marg. The project is expected to cost ₹43.07 crore and will take 12 months to complete from the day construction starts.