Beyond Metro deadlines

Beyond Metro deadlines

Even before Covid-19 struck, the mega project had drawn flak for its delays

Most stations under the Metro first phase score poorly on the connectivity front. Credit: DH illustration

Years lost in an illogical Monorail-Metro debate, work on the Namma Metro Phase-I began with much fanfare in 2007. That was 14 years ago, and not even the most pessimistic prediction estimated it would end up as one of India’s slowest projects. The much-delayed Kengeri line launch is just another proof.

On Sunday, the Metro will finally chug into the Kengeri Station, the end of a 7.53km extension from Mysuru Road on the Purple Line. Missing multiple deadlines, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) spent Rs 1,560 crore on infrastructure and Rs 360 crore on land acquisition to get the six stations and the line ready for operation.

The pandemic did play havoc with the already stretched completion deadlines across the project’s second phase. But even before Covid-19 struck, the mega project had drawn flak for its delays. It took over 13 years to complete the 42-km Phase-I, faster than only the Kolkata Metro project.

Lack of urgency

Land acquisition problems, inter-agency coordination issues, legal wrangles linked to environmental concerns have all been attributed to the delays. But the perceived lack of urgency to tackle these issues has led to a dramatic escalation in project cost, seemingly unending chaos on the roads, hazardous air and noise pollution.

Read | Citizens happy about new Metro line, not with delays

Pre-pandemic, this was particularly pronouned on the Whitefield Metro stretch extending from Baiyappanahalli to ITPL. Today, the project is into accelerated station development stage. But for years, road-users on the stretch had endured extreme congestion, pollution and glaring safety issues.

Recalls Zibi Jamal, a long-time resident and civic activist from the area, “BMRCL had made tall promises about cordoning off the work areas and building alternate roads. That did not happen and even existing roads were not patched up. The sufferings of the road-users reduced slightly only due to the reduction in traffic.”

Read | Kengeri line extension: Pros and cons

Construction hazards

Excavated mud and construction debris left uncleared meant air pollution levels shot through human endurance levels at multiple points on the stretch. “Before the pandemic, citizens had complained about lack of proper barricades at several locations. The risks were amplified at busy intersections such as the one near the Phoenix Mall with high pedestrian density,” Zibi points out.

The Environmental Assessment Report of the Airport Metro line along the Outer Ring Road (ORR) has stipulated strict guidelines to address issues related to road-user safety at the construction site, air and noise pollution. However, as Zibi notes from a commuter’s point of view, implementation is key, and so is strict monitoring.

Chaos await ORR

If lessons are not learnt from past mistakes, a massive chaos awaits ORR, she warns. “They should not dig up the entire stretch. Instead, they could barricade section by section. For instance, from Silk Board Junction to Iblur, Iblur to Marathahalli and from there to K R Puram. Alternate roads should be in very good condition. BMRCL and traffic police should coordinate to ensure there is no parking on the service roads.”

Delays are inevitable in such massive projects, but did the BMRCL leverage the 18 months period during the pandemic to plan infrastructure that would boost inter-modal connectivity? This is the question posed by Sanjay Sridhar, mobility analyst and strategic advisor on sustainability to five State Governments.

He elaborates, “Did BMRCL work with the BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation) to put bus stops closer to the Metro stations or proper stands for autorickshaws? We lost 18 months that could have been used to design and plan the infrastructure for seamless inter-modal connectivity.”

Connectivity gaps

Most stations under the Metro first phase score poorly on the connectivity front. Even BMTC bus bays are lacking in many stations, forcing commuters to walk long distances. The Yeswanthpura Metro is still not linked to the Railway Station there with a foot overbridge. Commuters risk their lives crossing the busy Tumakuru Road after alighting at Metro stations on the stretch.

Sanjay insists that intermodal transit infrastructure should be mandatory for all Phase III stations and along the Airport Metro alignment. “If BMRCL was smart enough, they would have looked at how ridership patterns and people’s mobility priorities have changed during the pandemic. Besides bus and auto, have bicycle docking stations as more people could pedal to cover the last mile.”

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