Rooting for more routes

Rooting for more routes
How long could you let a National Highway be the only access route to Kempegowda International Airport (KIA)? For seven years, airport-goers had absolutely no choice.

They often ran the risk of missing flights, as flash strikes, accidents, tree-falls and mounting traffic blocked their transit. An alternative, well-laid six-lane road might be finally ready in six months. But why did it take this long? Despite the huge risk of a single entrance, why did the state government and airport operators hurry through an alternative?

Was it a deliberate ploy to force everyone to take the heavily tolled Airport Road (just a stretch of the NH)? Those in the know do think so.

They point at a tripartite agreement involving the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).

Looking beyond deal

Details of this agreement have never been out in the public domain. However, the enormous increase in passenger traffic at KIA, the huge potential for future growth, has apparently pushed the authorities to look beyond the deal. In 2016, as many as 22.18 million passengers used KIA, up 22.5% from 2015.

BIAL’s president, Airport Operations, Hari Marar refutes charges that they were against a second entry point. “There was nothing like that. The more access points to the airport, the better,” says he. BIAL only objected to an entry near Mylanahalli which would have come in the way of the second runway.

But maximising the current road’s potential has been a perfect ploy in the government’s argument for the controversial steel flyover. Allowing more access routes to the airport would dilute the case for an expensive, widely criticised flyover. Only the stay by National Green Tribunal stands in the way.

The Aero India 2017 airshow at Yelahanka was the immediate trigger for the authorities to look out for an alternative road in a hurry. The traffic police had learnt from previous air shows that the enhanced traffic would definitely spark another unmanageable gridlock on the existing road.

Traffic studies

Traffic studies had shown that about 35% of the vehicular movement towards the airport is from the city’s Eastern side. So, for vehicles coming from KR Puram side on Outer Ring Road, it made sense to turn right at Thanisandra main road, turn right again at Sathanur to Bagalur, Myalanahalli and Begur.

From Begur, a 450-metre stretch leads to the airport’s perimeter wall. BIAL has broken this wall, finally opening a second entrance to KIA. However, a smooth ride to the airport terminal will materialise only after BIAL completes a 1,300-metre stretch from the wall to the road leading to the terminal.

Commuters would want the 50-ft wide alternative route to be kept open even after the air show. But airport-bound vehicles are unlikely to shift in a big way before a six-lane, 100-ft road takes shape. This is not expected before July, although Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, after a visit to the area last year had set a March 2017 deadline.

Budigere Cross route

For passengers from Whitefield, KR Puram, Hoskote and beyond, another alternative road currently exists from Budigere Cross on Old Madras Road. Vehicles turn left at Budigere to Begur and proceed to join the Ballari Road/NH (existing Airport Road) a few meters from the toll plaza.

Once work on the alternative road is completed, these vehicles could take a short cut right after Begur village to the airport through the new entrance.  The second gateway to KIA will have another key benefit: A quick access to the KIADB’s Aerospace Park near Bagaluru. Urban mobility analyst Sanjeev Dyamannavar points out, the Park will now be only three km away.

Incidentally, work on the road from Budigere Cross had started in 2008-09. Over Rs 100 crore was spent before it was shelved. One key factor was apparently the pressure from a contractor-politician nexus to let all traffic to KIA routed through the tolled airport road.

Toll lobby

The toll lobby had been so strong that none of the IT bigwigs came in support of any alternative routes. Neither did the associations of IT companies in ITPL and Electronics City.

But now, as Dyamannavar emphasises, the state chief secretary should ensure that the road stretch inside the airport campus is completed in all respects within one month.

The top bureaucrat is empowered to call the shots since he serves as chairman of BIAL’s Board of Directors. The message is clear: The toll lobby should be shown its place.  

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