The 13.59 kilometre-long Eastern Freeway, aimed at reducing travel time for cars between suburbs and South Mumbai, was today inaugurated by Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan here.
The project, which has been in the making for five years, includes a 550-metre twin tunnel (the first such in urban India) and a 9.29 km elevated road which is the second longest in urban settlement anywhere in the country.
Chavan, who was accompanied by his deputy Ajit Pawar, stressed that if the maximum city were to achieve its ambition of becoming a financial capital, it should have projects of global standards like the Freeway.
He added that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which is headed by him, will commission projects of up to Rs 5,000 crore to public during the year and added work on over Rs 40,000 crore of projects is underway.
The Freeway will reduce the time taken for the travel from the suburb of Chembur in northeast Mumbai to South Mumbai to around 20 minutes from the present one hour or more.
Vehicles need not pay any toll charges for using the Rs 980 crore-road, and traffic on the road is expected to be thrown open starting from Saturday.
The road seems to be targeted at the passenger cars as heavy trucks and containers, which would otherwise form a bulk of traffic because of the port being in close proximity, are not allowed on the road.
Two wheelers and three wheelers will also not be allowed on the road.
Chavan, whose administration has been under attack for delaying the inauguration of the project, sought to dispel such notions saying it got pushed due to the non-completion of work.
"Some blasting work was on in the tunnel and we could not risk throwing it open. We are also yet to complete the final phase of the project which will connect Panjrapol in Chembur with Ghatkopar, but decided to start the completed stretch now considering the balance of convenience," he said.
He added that the final phase will be commissioned by December this year.
Like many other projects, the Freeway has also seen a cost escalation of up to Rs 400 crore, since the original plan was made. The CM attributed this to some estimates, especially regarding what lies beneath the ground, going wrong.
Chavan exuded confidence that the tenders for the Rs 22,000-crore Mumbai Trans-Harbour Sea Link project will be invited by the year-end, saying the government has already received some necessary land from the Mumbai Port Trust and from the salt department.
Pawar complimented the MMRDA for completing the project, but made public his reservations over the skywalks built by the agency across the city, especially near the busy railway stations.
Very few of the skywalks are being put to good use, Pawar said, pointing out that in many cases they are used as meeting points, by jaywalkers and some have also witnessed illegal hutments being erected underneath.
Speaking on the imbroglio over whether to extend the lease of the 225-acre race course at Mahalakshmi, Pawar reiterated the stance of his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, saying the city badly needs open spaces and added that requests like a theme park (forwarded by the Opposition Shiv Sena) should not be entertained.
The state government owns six lakh square metres of the project, while the remaining 2.5 lakh square metres is with the Shiv Sena-controlled local body.