A new way out of tollway

Kempegowda International Airport road Devanahalli toll in Bengaluru. Photo by S K Dinesh

Heading to fly out of the city, the Bengalurean’s relationship with the Airport Road just got a bit complicated. The entry through the toll plaza just got a bit too cumbersome, the wait a bit too late to catch a flight with ease. So, is the newly opened alternative road the next best option?

To understand just how seamless that option is, a DH team drives through the new road and returns. What unfolds is a story of incomplete stretches, land loser apprehensions, cab driver woes and a collective wish that the old toll collection system be restored.

The old system meant no vehicle had to pay toll en route to the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA). It was all about queuing up on the way back to the city. On April 26, the system changed. Airport-bound cabs had to pay the toll in advance. That meant more time at the toll plaza and less time at the airport. Not all were happy.

Toll system change

The Navayuga Devanahalli Tollway Private Limited (NDTPL) had an excuse for advance toll payment: Motorists freely enter KIA but dodge paying the toll by taking the alternative, toll-free road. Their target: Cabs headed to Whitefield, Marathahalli, KR Puram and Mahadevapura, for whom the new road is cheaper, faster and far less congested than the tolled Airport Road.

Heading out to KIA from the city centre, the alternative to the tolled road is to go straight to Hennur Road Cross and take the new road beyond. Left half-done for years, the flyover over the Outer Ring Road at this Cross has been finally completed. But breezing past the ORR is only the beginning of a winding route that is anything but smooth.

New road challenges

Rebranded as ‘New Airport Road,’ the Hennur-Bagalur is effectively a two-lane stretch in most parts. But the mushrooming of big multi-storied apartment blocks, sprawling residential layouts and shopping clusters near ORR, Byratti, Kothanur has upped the traffic already. At the railway underbridge near Kothanur, the road narrows down to a bottleneck that could only get worse in the future.

A few kilometers away, the road narrows down further at Kannur. The stretch beyond the junction is a horrendous mess of debris and rain-fed slush. The city traffic dies down and the road clears up into a smooth two-lane stretch till Bagalur. It remains so before narrowing to a single lane again at Bandi Kodigehalli Palya.

Needed: Speed humps

Here, the villagers say they have been paid compensation and buildings marked for demolition. “Land has been acquired and we have been compensated. But we want the road to be safe. The number of cars has increased. They should install speed humps as there are schools and small children,” says Lakshmana, a local resident for decades.

Further ahead lies Mylanahalli, where the road – used by many airport cabs -- turns left towards KIA. An accident here last month had forced residents to block the mounting airport cab traffic. A new compound being built for a private property is the only sign of road-widening here.

The full extent of the alternative road reality unfolds at Begur village, where the lane joins the 1.2km South West Road (SWR) leading to KIA. Built by the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), this road is a mix of two stretches, one eight-lane and another six-lane. Work on SWR was completed several weeks ago.

Cabs junction

Hundreds of cab drivers have parked their vehicles at this junction, just outside the KIA’s wall. Their collective lament: A wait too long at the toll plaza. “During peak hours, it takes about half an hour to 45 minutes. Passengers complain of missing flights. They should restore the old system of paying on the return trip,” says Suresh Reddy, a private taxi driver.

At the toll plaza, the NDTPL managers do not fully agree. The queue is manageable, they contend. On condition of anonymity, they say the alternative road has reduced the toll collection by as much as 20%.

But the cab drivers argue that those headed to Whitefield, K R Puram, ITPL and beyond had always preferred a different route. Even before the new road was formally opened, KIA-bound cabs would take the Budigere Cross route from Old Madras Road, go around the airport wall to Devanahalli and enter through the Trumpet Flyover.

Whitefield-bound

The opening of the new road has reduced this route by almost 10km. As driver Varun explains, “We can now reach ITPL and Whitefield in one hour 15 minutes.” The new route: Head out of KIA through SWR, turn left at Begur and head straight from Mylanahalli by State Highway 104. This road leads to Kondenahalli, Budigere and Mandur before joining Old Madras Road at Budigere Cross. A right turn here leads to ITPL, K R Puram, Baiyappanahalli, Indiranagar and beyond.

For passengers, particularly those landing at KIA, the route is not of much concern. As a BIAL spokesperson put it, passengers leave that to the driver. The travellers' only concern: Reach the destination by the fastest route without much hassle.

Has the new road met that objective? The airport officials say ever since the SWR was opened after a three-month construction period last month, cab drivers have opted to head out that way. But there are no numbers yet.

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