Infrastructure white elephants
Bangalore’s mind-boggling vehicular population (41.7 lakh) is unprecedented in scale, triggering umpteen traffic jams, congestions on every road and throwing the long-forgotten sobriquet of the City as a Pensioners’ Paradise to the wind.
To mitigate the chock-a-blocks, the civic agencies have time and again tried to provide simpler and speedier access to every corner of the City by constructing flyovers and underpasses. With narrow roads and the growing demand for better infrastructure, Bangalore has seen a 3,000 per cent increase in flyovers and 2,000 per cent increase in the number of underpasses over the past 15 years.
From seven-foot to 60-foot wide underpasses to four-lane flyovers, the City surely has a range of such projects. But over the years, grade separators have become more of a norm and sign of ‘development’ rather than need and necessity. Many are convinced that local politicians get a grade separator built in their area to show off their ‘development’ prowess, worsening the traffic situation in the process.
Although there are flyovers aplenty that stick out like sore thumbs, there are a few that have been much appreciated. These are the ones the civic agencies cite to build more flyovers and signal-free corridors (a combination of flyovers and underpasses) and hope to bring on board commuters keen on escaping the traffic menace.
One of them is the Hebbal flyover. Though an extremely narrow access route, it has eased congestion for commuters travelling towards the outlying areas closer to the international airport.
At the other end, the Nayandahalli junction flyover has reduced the traffic problems of people travelling towards Magadi Road and the Outer Ring Road (ORR).
Known as the Silicon City of the East, Bangalore has the dubious distinction of being the only metropolis with a traffic cop manning a junction atop a flyover. While the traffic junction has been removed, the construction of such grade separators, against public opinion, continues to have its repercussions on the City and its citizens.
From the Tagore Circle underpass to the construction of the CNR Rao junction underpass, civic agencies have at every stage found themselves in a precarious situation of justifying their action of creating the grade separators.
The construction of pedestrian underpasses, however unpopular they are among citizens, has continued.
According to the 2007 Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Plan, commissioned by the Department of Urban Land Transport, 28 grade separators were planned, besides the existing flyovers and underpasses. Till date, three to four projects have been shelved.
Traffic experts believe close to 70 per cent of the projects, which involve the construction of flyovers and underpasses, are not at all warranted in places they have been built.
“Any flyover requires a minimum of 33 metres of road for its construction. However, there are very few roads that wide in the City and it is absolutely unnecessary to have so many flyovers and underpasses,” explains M N Sreehari, a traffic expert.
As Sreehari says, flyovers and underpasses do not mitigate traffic congestion at any given stage, but transfer the burden to the nearest junction.
“Look at the Mekhri Circle underpass. While vehicular movement has smoothened there, the chaos has shifted to the next junction at Sanjaynagar and to the BDA flyover. This has forced the civic agencies to construct yet another set of flyovers,” he points out.
Agreeing with Sreehari, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), M A Saleem, says flyovers and underpasses are best used along the periphery of the City. “In the heart of the City, grade separators have been of little use in decongesting traffic.
It has been just shifting the problem from one junction to the next. Look at Anand Rao Circle. While traffic there has smoothened, the burden has now been shifted to the next junctions at KR Circle and Hudson Circle,” he said.
Grade separators are just another means to ensure that traffic flow is kept under check, he says. “Ultimately, there needs to be a proper public transport system in Bangalore. For a population of 90 lakh, we have 42 lakh vehicles, compared with Mumbai which boasts of only 21 lakh vehicles on the streets for a population of 1.2 crore people,” points out Saleem.
Old grade separators
In the race supposedly to provide better ‘connectivity’ and ‘accessibility’, civic agencies have completely neglected the existing grade separators.
A prime example is the Mysore Road flyover. The City’s first-ever flyover built in 1997 linked Town Hall with Mysore Road, and was much appreciated by citizens. But it has been in utter neglect ever since.
Fifteen years on, the flyover is riddled with road humps in the form of tarred expansion joints that have created a menace atop the grade separator. The BBMP has been finding it extremely difficult to complete the project of replacing the expansion joints as only one firm in the entire world has bid for the project.
Realising nothing from their previous follies, civic agencies appear to have continued delaying infrastructure projects without any respite.
Currently, the BBMP and BDA have about four underpasses, 13 flyovers and one pedestrian underpass in the final stages of completion. And their number is likely to increase.
BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Goel said the flyovers and underpasses were being taken up with proper ‘guidance’. “We have some major projects in the pipeline and they will be completed quickly,” he says.