Light at end of tunnel for Shiradi Ghat

Road ahead: Highway experts to explore the possibility of constructing tunnel road

There’s relief in store for motorists. The dilapidated Shiradi Ghat section is finally getting due attention from the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

A team of highway experts, including from Japan International Co-Operative Agency (Jica), will inspect the Ghat road to develop the stretch and also explore the possibility of constructing a tunnel road.

The team of experts, comprising the officials of the ministry, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and Jica, will inspect the road from Hassan onwards in the Ghat area in February. The date is not fixed yet.

The government is also looking at the possibility of raising funds from Jica for providing a permanent solution to the Shiradi Ghat stretch, which connects Hassan with Mangalore.

Jica is a Japanese government agency which executes many diverse programmes to meet the needs of the developing countries. It also has expertise in developing infrastructure projects.

C Kandasamy, Director General (Road Development) and Special Secretary to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, New Delhi, said that he, along with the representatives of Jica, would visit the Ghat section shortly. 

“During my visit, I will travel through the Ghat section, which I have not done so far. I will understand the problems of the particular stretch better when I visit it. We have to find a permanent solution and it is possible. Laying a tunnel road to avoid cutting of trees in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats is one of the options we will consider. We will make use of the expertise of the representatives of Jica and the National Highways Authority of India. We may also explore the possibility of getting funds from Jica.”

Kandasamy pointed out that he had taken the initiative to build a 1.1-km tunnel road on a national highway between Thrissur and Palakkad in Kerala.

“The solution to the Shiradi Ghat woes should be technically and financially viable and also be acceptable to the people. Shortly, we will work out such a solution,” he said.

‘Not feasible’

Ports Minister Krishna Palemar, also the Dakshina Kannada district in-charge minister, recently announced that Ashok Kheni, the promoter of the NICE corridor, was keen on building a tunnel road in the Ghat section. But the idea may not be feasible, according to A K Mathur, Chief General Manager, NHAI, Karnataka and Goa.

The cost of constructing a kilometre of tunnel will be around Rs 80 crore to Rs 90 crore.
While the distance between Hassan and Bantwal Cross (18 km from Mangalore) is 89 km, the Ghat stretch itself is 28 km.

“Are we in a position to invest crores of rupees in building a tunnel? I am not sure. But in case the Union Ministry makes up its mind, then it can be a reality. At present, the NHAI has no plans to have a tunnel road. We are getting a detailed project report ready for developing the existing road into a concrete road. That itself may cost Rs 1,000 crore. The more we invest, the more the toll will be. Road users may protest exorbitant fee collection,” he said.

The officer also said the topography of the Ghat area may not allow tunnel construction. “The elevation ranges from 200 metres to 700 metres. The topography may not be conducive for building tunnels,” he added.

Widening not possible

Asked whether the NHAI would also widen the road, Mathur replied in the negative. He said the forest department was not ready to part with even an inch of land, and therefore, widening of the road was ruled out.

“The DPAR will be ready by February/March. Our plan is only to convert the existing road into a concrete road and build shoulder drains,” he said.

If the problem could be addressed so easily, then why was it not done all these years? Mathur says, “The road came under our purview only in last October or November. So far, the NH division of the State Public Works Department was taking care of it. We have successfully constructed the elevated road to the Electronics City and a six-lane road between Bangalore and Nelamangala. So, building a toll road is not a challenge, and we will do it if we are asked to.”

History

Crores of rupees have been spent on repairing the road. Shree Durga Construction Pvt Ltd, a Salem-based contractor who did a shoddy repair job, has been dragged to the Supreme Court; a CBI probe was ordered; Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science have submitted a detailed report to the state government explaining the substandard work done by the contractor.

Milestones

*  Stretch of road that is in a highly deplorable state      in the Ghat — 26 km
*  Distance between Sakaleshpur and Gundia — 38 km
*  Road width in the Ghat section — 7 metres, two lane
*  Traffic intensity — more than 23,000 passenger car units per day
*  Average rainfall — 6000mm to 7000mm in a year
*  The worst damage was in 2005-06
*  Problem – Ineffective drainage, unstable shoulders, movement of heavily loaded vehicles

Present status

The NHAI has asked an agency to prepare a project report to lay a four-lane road from Hassan to BC Road on NH 48. The projected cost for the project was Rs 2,038 crore in 2007.

It has not been approved by the NHAI. In case the Authority goes ahead with the plan, it will be taken up on a Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) basis.

The Union Transport Ministry is also toying with the idea of having a tunnel road in the Ghat section. Talks in this direction are yet to begin.

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