Elevated corridor: unelevating idea

Why this strange affinity for elevated projects in Bengaluru? Earlier, the Karnataka government proposed a six-lane steel flyover, purportedly to reduce the travel time between the Kempegowda International Airport and the city. It would have resulted in cutting down 800-odd trees, used up 60,000 tonnes of steel and cost around Rs 1,800 crore. Thankfully, the project was aborted due to a people’s movement amidst a din of corruption allegations after the alleged seizure of a diary.

Now, the government has proposed a 95-102 km-long elevated corridor project, albeit a concrete one, threatening to alter the landscape of the city, violate lake buffer zones, chop off over 3,800 trees and breach several noise-sensitive localities including hospitals, libraries and educational institutions.

Ostensibly to reduce traffic congestion and to lower pollution in a city that adds 1,000 vehicles onto the road every day, the political class is well aware of the implications of this corridor. Bengaluru’s vehicle growth will simply overshoot road capacity in a matter of years. Whither the alternatives — strengthening public transport by expediting suburban rail project, introducing more buses, extending metro lines, ensuring last-mile connectivity and encouraging pedestrian-friendly measures such as footpaths and cycle lanes.

But, even as citizen-activists have red-flagged this project, the government made budgetary allocations for initial funding and invited bids for key sections of the corridor. The nodal implementation agency, the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), had taken up the north-south two-six-lane corridor under Phase I and was to implement it in three packages. It required Karnataka High Court’s intervention to put the brakes on the project by directing that no work whatsoever shall be undertaken on the programme until the next date of hearing.

While the project was aimed at ensuring safe, fast and congestion-free connectivity to different parts of the city, previous history of similar solutions like the road-widening project, one ways, flyovers and magic boxes have encouraged even more private vehicles to come and occupy Bengaluru’s roads. Traffic congestion is now more acute than ever before, so is vehicular pollution.

While insisting on fashioning ways and means to move vehicles, the government is oblivious to moving people. If viable public transport options are provided or if car ownership and maintenance become expensive, people would tend to use less of them, but the government does not prioritise mass transport.

The suburban rail project is being soft-pedalled. Highly congested areas like Sarjapur, Electronic City, Whitefield have had train tracks and stations for decades but have not been leveraged. With basic infrastructure already in place, the suburban railway is a readymade solution for the city’s woes. But, after a few encouraging signs, the project is still swamped in a maze of hurdles, including land acquisition, clearance of encroachments and with no signs of the proposed Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to take single-point responsibility to move the project forward. 

The BMTC bus system, the existing public transport scheme in Bengaluru, gets step-motherly treatment. With a mere 6,500 buses, they carry around 4.5 million passengers daily. Yet, the government gives it little money to buy new buses, does not give priority to buses on the roads and has no plans for bus lanes.

Namma Metro is very promising and has the capacity to clear traffic congestion and change the mobility dynamics of Bengaluru for the better. But the government’s elevated corridor project seems to be getting preference over adding metro lines. Prima- facie, it appears a Phase-3 metro line was scrapped and another truncated to make way for elevated corridors on two stretches.

For last-mile connectivity, bicycle lanes and the movement of pedestrians should be encouraged. Yet, the government fails to rigorously implement Section 288 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, that allows the removal of encroachments on existing footpaths, ensuring evenly laid out bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly footpaths all over the city.

Why then is the government relentlessly pushing the elevated corridor? Why are the suburban rail project, new metro lines, sanctioning of new buses, building of pedestrian-friendly footpaths and bicycle lanes being overshadowed, even neglected? While all projects require contractors and officialdom to clear the bills, why prefer state-level contractors well-versed in channeling the corridor project fund flow right from the budgeting stage, instead of contractors specialising in rail and metro projects?

Heightened public pressure during elections should have had politicians working to better the lives of Bengaluru’s citizens. Instead, not only does the urban voter wait endlessly for the suburban rail, the metro expansion and last-mile connectivity projects but regrettably gets a poorly thought-out corridor project thrust upon him, requiring the Karnataka High Court to come to the rescue of the citizen once again!

(The writer is a former director on the Board of BEML)

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