Ashram crossing descends into chaos; commuters, residents suffer
The problem is acute along Mathura Road, where authorities are now creating an underpass beneath the intersection with Ring Road.Updated: Oct 07, 2020, 04:29 IST
Peak hour or off-peak, the Ashram intersection has turned into a nightmare for commuters and residents who cram into a stretch barely wide enough for a bus, navigate crumbling, cratered and often flooded roads, with construction activity to ease a decades-long choke point only leading to more chaos.
The problem is acute along Mathura Road, where authorities are now creating an underpass beneath the intersection with Ring Road. The work, carried out by the Public Works Department (PWD), is part of a two-stage project to decongest the both arterial stretches that are used every day by hundreds of thousands of vehicles crossing from one part of the National Capital Region to another.
But poor planning and road management is dogging the project.
Roughly 20 metres of the 30-metre wide Mathura Road, where the 750m long underpass will take shape, has been barricaded for diggers and earthmovers to function. A potholed 175m stretch between Ashram and Bhogal is the most squeezed. When HT visited the spot, jams extended for over a kilometre on either side of the intersection and the air hung heavy with dust from construction and smoke from idling vehicles.
“Pedestrians have to move along the traffic hoping nothing untoward happens to them. If by any chance a bus or any other vehicle breaks down on the roads to and from Bhogal, it would easily lead to a logjam of 2-3 hours,” said Vijender Singh Chaudhary over the cacophony of impatient honking by motorists nearby.
Chaudhary, 48, uses the stretch as part of his daily commute. “During peak hours, it now takes one hour or more to cross the intersection. In non-peak hours, it takes 20-30 minutes. The actual time that such a short stretch takes is hardly 2-3 minutes,” he added. The area is now so tightly packed that pedestrians, shop owners and those on two-wheelers are also exposed to the risk of getting infected by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Data released by the traffic department shows that since the Covid-19 lockdown was eased and construction work on the stretch resumed with preliminary diversions, the intersection has been recording 280,000 vehicles a day, amounting to 11,600 vehicles on an hour. The busy intersection did not have traffic police personnel deployed during the afternoon on Tuesday, when HT visited the spot.
With the old road now taken over for the underpass, authorities widened the stretch by eating into the footpath. The resulting space is still little for vehicles, while potholes, leaking water pipelines, debris and construction material impede the traffic flow.
“There are broken water pipelines of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) that are right under these makeshift roads, leading to ankle-deep waterlogging at the time of regular supply, which unfortunately falls during the peak traffic hours. This is the worst I have seen in 40 years of living in the area,” said Deepak Dubey, the owner of a cybercafe on Mathura Road.
Residents HT spoke to said the resulting construction dust now blows into their homes, covering their floors and furniture in thick layers every day.
The part of Mathura Road on the Friends Colony side of Ashram Chowk is in a relatively better state. PWD has nearly finished construction of the ramp for the underpass on that side. Apart from the underpass, the decongestion project also includes the extension of the Ashram flyover till the mouth of the DND Flyway.
The estimated cost of the underpass is ₹78 crore while the cost of the flyover extension is ₹128 crore. The initial deadline of the project was December 2020 which now has been shifted to March 2021 due to Covid-19.
Delhi’s PWD minister Satyendar Jain and Delhi government spokesperson did not respond to calls and queries seeking comments.
Officials in PWD, however, said it has set a target of 10 days in which the barricade on the Bhogal/Nizamuddin side will be reduced by 1-1.5 metres on either side of the carriageways. “The department has received several complaints of severe traffic jam in the area. A meeting was convened recently and it was decided that the ramp on the Bhogal side will be expedited. Also, the ramp on the Faridabad side is 99% complete in record time and only boundary works are currently being carried out there,” said a senior PWD official, asking not to be named.
The chaos at Ashram has also been a recipe for uneasy road-rage confrontations, risky as they are at a time when people avoid close contact with each other. “It was just two days ago that a four-wheeler driver abused me and pushed me off my bike for inadvertently touching his bumper. The road is so bumpy and cramped that everyone starts shouting or honking even if there is a few seconds delay in turning on the vehicle after the traffic signal turns green,” said Naved Hassan, 38, who travels for work to Connaught Place from Molarband every day on his two-wheeler.
Experts said the problems are a reflection of bad planning. Dr S Velmurugan, chief scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, CSIR-CRRI said it appeared that hardly any guidelines of the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) are being followed at the Ashram intersection.
“The IRC rules say that if there is any construction happening, the road that is made open for vehicular movement should have the wearing course set up. But in this case, the roads, especially the one on the side of Bhogal, are in such bad shape that we cannot even call them potholes. There are craters on that road. There are no signages and no stop markings on the road. The only good thing is that they have put traffic signals now at all sides of the intersection,” he said.
SD Mishra, the additional commissioner of police (southern traffic range), said that signboards have been placed at multiple junctures to warn motorists about congestion at Ashram Chowk and the alternative routes to take.
“But we can’t force the private motorists to not take a road. We have written to the DTC to make their buses take diversions that will allow them to avoid Ashram Chowk. That will help us avoid some congestion on Mathura Road,” said Mishra.
But it is up to the DTC to take a final decision on that and the decision is awaited, said Mishra.