If all goes well, in a few years time travelling on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway (MPE) will involve driving through the country’s second longest tunnel.
Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation’s ambitious Rs 3,600-crore old Mumbai-Pune Highway augmentation plan, which includes a nine km-long tunnel between Khopoli and Lonavala, will be placed before the cabinet committee on infrastructure next week. The plan for the tunnels, which alone will cost R800 crore, is expected to get a go ahead from the cabinet committee. The project will be undertaken on public-private partnership financial model.
MSRDC has plans to complete the project by 2017, which will segregate the old highway and the Mumbai Pune Expressway (MPE) between Khopoli and Lonavala, reducing the journey time between Mumbai and Pune by another 30-45 minutes. The tunnel, is perhaps the most accident-prone area on MPE. The tunneling project is part of MSRDCs’s expansion plans. At present, the MPE has five tunnels, with the 1.5 km long Kamshet tunnel near Pune being the longest.
If MSRDC has its way, the old highway will be widened from four lanes to six. The MPE will also be expanded from six to eight lanes. The only worry for the MSRDC at this stage is possible opposition from the Ministry of Environment and Forest(MoEF), as the tunnel will pass under the Bhushi dam.
The detailed plan (SMD has a copy) shows two parallel 865 and 810 metres-long bridges, apart from two sets of 1,620 and 7,755 metre-long tunnels from Khalapur to Khopoli till Lonavala. According to a senior MSRDC official, “Once the cabinet committee gives a clearance, we can invite tenders for the implementation of the project.”
Speaking to SUNDAY MiD DAY, a senior environment expert connected to the government, said, “Planning a project to improve connectivity between two cities is important but at the same time special care should be taken while building the tunnel, as it will pass under a water body.
I personally feel that MoEF will take its time to clear this tunnel proposal, despite the fact that blasting technology is no longer used to build tunnels. Even with boring technique, the MoEF will want to make sure nothing could go wrong.” Noted transport expert Sudhir Badami, however, sounded optimistic.
“With both cities growing and expanding, there is need for improving the old Mumbai-Pune highway and I feel that the augmentation plan of old highway will help a lot, not only in saving travel time but also fuel,” he said.
Once completed, the tunnel will be the second- longest in the country after the nine km-long tunnel through the Rohtang Pass.