Very important people in the Capital’s power corridors do not have time for Mumbai, and the public here cannot access the Eastern Freeway - which slashes travel time between south Mumbai and eastern suburbs to less than half an hour till the VIPs make time to inaugurate it.
That is how the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) explains keeping the freeway - all ready for public use - from being used by the public. The freeway was to be thrown open in the first week of June, or at least that is what Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had promised Mumbai right after inaugurating the Milan Subway ROB (road overbridge) 10 days ago.
“Work on the Eastern Freeway is complete and we will make sure that it is thrown open to the public and motorists in the first week of June,” Chavan had said in his address after inaugurating the ROB. But it seems that when it comes to getting dates, the MMRDA is finding politicians to be pricier than movie stars. For, the authority has not been able to settle an opening date, thanks to the packed schedules of Congress big wheels in New Delhi.
“Earlier there were plans to hold the inaugurations of Milan ROB and Eastern Freeway within a few days of each other in May-end. Later, the decision to open the freeway was postponed as the state wanted a high-profile Congress leader or a Union minister to open it,” said a source. “As the state did not get any dates from the New Delhi leaders, the opening has been delayed,” he said.
Sources claim party top brass, including its president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have got no time to spare on Mumbai. Even those next in the pecking order approached by the state - finance minister P Chidambaram and urban development minister Kamal Nath -haven’t written back with a time they might be available for the opening.
“There were talks that Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh might be called for the opening. But both of them are busy. So chances are that P Chidambaram or Kamal Nath may inaugurate the freeway,” said an official, pleading anonymity.
Sources from MMRDA, who prefer to remain nameless, said contractors working on the freeway were asked to complete the project before May 31, and, unusually, they stuck to the deadline. The MMRDA is now geared up to open the freeway. It has even readied the ads to be published in newspapers regarding the inauguration. But till it hears from either of the ministers, the preparations are of no avail.
The insistence on getting players from Centre comes from the fact that funds for the freeway were allocated under the Centre-sponsored Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the source added. Another source told this newspaper that the 13.59-km signal-free freeway - which will reduce by half the travel time between Shivaji Chowk in Chembur and Orange Gate in south Mumbai from an hour - might be opened in the second week of June.
According to Metropolitan Commissioner UPS Madan, “The work of the Eastern Freeway is almost complete but the exact date of its opening is yet to be decided. We will open it in three to four days.” Questioned about the delay in the opening, he said, “If we open the tunnel, work on which has already been completed, then we wouldn’t be able to carry out the final remaining work on the adjacent tunnel.” However, sources said that if any stone blasting or other work has to be carried out, it can be done even at night after temporarily blocking traffic.
Constructed with the country’s first twin tunnels within city limits, it is expected that the Eastern Freeway will serve as a magnet for tourists. Starting at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre hill, it ends at Gautam Nagar near Panjarpol. Both passageways in the tunnel are 500 m in length. Only one tunnel will be thrown open now. The other will be operational next year.
The twin tunnels are 505 m and 555 m in length, 17 m in width and 10 m in height. There will be four carriageways in each tunnel. The tunnels are 7 m apart. The motorists using the flyover won’t witness bumpy rides when their vehicles pass over expansion joints of the flyover, because special care has been taken to layer the road surface on the elevated portion of the freeway with the black topping of bitumen.
>> Work on the freeway began in January 2009
>> Its elevated portion is earthquake-resistant, and can withstand a quake of magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale
>> The raised portion has been designed specially for heavy trailers or multi-axel vehicles.
>> 16 lakh cement sacks were used for the construction of this elevated stretch - 9 km..
>> Steel crash barriers have been installed on the median on the road so vehicles do not careen into the opposite lane in case of accidents
>> 13.59-km-long stretch on the freeway has been constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 900 crore
>> The 2.5-km stretch from Panjarpol to Ghatkopar will be opened in the next four months