A monstrous, hyper-expensive steel flyover of dubious utility is about to take shape from the city’s Chalukya / Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal flyover junction.
Is an aesthetically unpleasant, airport-centric infra giant the right tool to win the perennial battle against Bengaluru’s mounting traffic?
Billed as the ultimate freeway to the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), the steel behemoth will cost a whopping Rs 1,350 crore when complete. That is public money spent without consulting the public, the actual road users.
Flyovers are no panacea. One look at those badly designed, poorly executed and ill-maintained flyovers across Bengaluru, and you know they just don’t decongest the roads. Traffic studies galore have shown how elevated roads only shift the problem from one junction to another. That’s hardly an answer!
Yet, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) is all set to get cracking on its plan for the 6.7-km structure. Taking off from Hebbal flyover, another one struggling with its unwieldy traffic load, the steel flyover will descend at the Basaveshwara Circle, a recipe for further chaos.
The Authority is in no mood to relent despite the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT)’s reservations against building more elevated corridors. DULT would instead give a greater push for public transport, disincentivise private transport and explore other sustainable options.
When it was first conceived two years ago, the flyover was estimated to cost Rs. 1,100 crore. In 24 months, that escalated by Rs 250 crore. BDA had hired STUP Consultants Private Limited to prepare the Detailed Project Report (DPR), fixing the cost.
The Development Authority had repeatedly floated tenders to kickstart the project in the past before it was pushed to the backburner. In the latest tender, two firms, the Navayuga Group and Larsen & Toubro India (L&T) took part. L&T being the lowest bidder may get the project allotted.
Land acquisition will not be a breeze, but BDA says it is up to it. The project, says BDA’s Engineering Member P N Nayak, will require four acres. “This includes three acres of government and one acre of private land,” he says. The Authority is ready to pay compensation to the private property owners as per prevailing market rates.
But what about the Rs 100 crore earmarked for the demolition of the underpass and overpass built precisely for the same reason as the steel flyover? These structures had sprung up when BBMP was pushed to ensure a hassle-free commute to KIA.
The Palike began work only when the airport was nearing completion. The civic agency, led by then commissioner Dr S Subramanya, initially planned to widen the road. The only option was to acquire a portion of Palace Grounds. But the property was under litigation and it could not be touched.
Clueless, BBMP eventually opted for an overpass near the BDA head office and an underpass near the Cauvery Theatre junction, now infamous as the Magic Box. If the BDA overpass was glaring in its poor design, the Magic Box has been ridiculed by architects and motorists alike.
Each of these structures cost about Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 4 crore to build. Widening and relaying the road cost the Palike about Rs 250 crore. Yet, mounting vehicular traffic on this road has thrown to the wind every decongestion plan. All of these structures will now go, to make way for the steel flyover.
Central funds have dried up for this project. There is no more money coming from JnNURM. So, where will BDA and the State Government for more funds? The road-users! Yes, the talk is that the flyover will be tolled, one of the very few in the city’s Centre.
The steel flyover story is as old as the Airport itself. But BDA’s plan to build it was turned down for a much bigger, costlier project: A High-Speed Rail Line (HSRL) with its alignment exactly matching that of the flyover.
However, the HSRL plan too was dropped as its pillars were to be built on High Grounds, its very name symbolizing the highest point of Bengaluru. Now, the steel flyover has been designed with many of its pillars to be erected at the same point.Is that feasible?
Even if this geographical point is ignored, the fact remains that the pillars will eat into the existing road space. Seasoned campaigners for sustainable transport refer to the reduced footpath space. The effective width of the road below will further reduce, triggering congestion on all approach roads.
Aesthetics will surely be another casualty, warns urban planner V Ravichandar. “The aesthetic look of Bengaluru will go for a six if the steel flyover comes up right in the Central Business District. We do not have examples of steel flyovers in the core area as they do not last longer,” he reasons.
But in all this debate, a bigger question remains unanswered: Why build projects that only attract more private vehicles while other sustainable transport solutions are completely ignored?