New Delhi: Eleven days into its opening, the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway, a 28km showpiece of Indian urban transportation, has turned into a major traffic nightmare and it now appears that Rites Ltd, the independent consultant on the project, got its key traffic projections all wrong.
Traffic on the expressway on the first day turned out to be what Rites, which helped create the detailed project report (DPR), had projected it would see in 2013. While DPR, prepared in 1998, estimated traffic in the first year at 80,000 vehicles a day, the actual average daily traffic is now being estimated at 140,000 vehicles.
“Instead of a 5% growth, we are now witnessing a minimum of 9% growth in traffic year-on-year,” said an official who didn’t want to be named.
Rites officials declined to elaborate while maintaining that “Nobody foresaw the growth that has happened in Gurgaon over the last few years.”
The plan for an expressway connecting Gurgaon, a Delhi suburb that is located in Haryana, and the Capital, was initiated in the late 1990s. The project had been delayed, partly due to changes in the scope of work, by some three years.
Gridlock: Rush hour traffic on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway. (Gurinder Osan / AP)
The Delhi-Gurgaon expressway has been in the news since it opened, with commuters complaining of long delays at its toll-gates, as the concessionaire struggled to cope with the number of vehicles.
The firm blamed the delays, of as much as 45 minutes in some instances, on the lack of toll-road etiquette as well as the time taken in collecting tolls, with a majority of the customers still paying by cash, rather than electronic cards that would reduce the wait time at the toll gates.
Some analysts, however, see the traffic data as a sign that the problem won’t have any quick fixes. A worried National Highways Authority of India, (NHAI), the roads regulator in the country, has written to Jaypee DSC Ventures Ltd, the project concessionaire, on 30 January, seeking an explanation for the troubles. A a clause in the concession agreement requires the operator to provide “uninterrupted flow of traffic.”
Meanwhile, the traffic on the expressway has already brought it close to the threshold level, after which NHAI can put in place competing transport facilities. This clause would kick in once the annual average daily traffic touches an average of 170,000, just 30,000 vehicles shy of where it is estimated to be today.
Analysts say it is important that NHAI and the concessionaire find ways to fix the long delays. “It requires a very high-level decision between the NHAI chairman and the concessionaire before the public start asking, ‘why are we paying tolls, when the road does not save us any time,’” said Amrit Pandurangi, who heads the transport and infrastructure practice for consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. “As far as building competing facilities go, the 170,000 number is more for the concessionaires comfort, because, even if the government does want to build another road, where are they going to get the land. That is going to take time.”
“There is a committee that has been formed under the Prime Minister to look at this issue (of opening new stretches to Gurgaon from Delhi). They should start planning now. Otherwise the public is going to suffer,” says the same official associated with the project.
Despite the mounting concerns, the higher than anticipated traffic is good for the concessionaire, Jaypee DSC. “This project is a diamond mine,” said another official associated with the project who did not wish to be identified, while estimating that the firm was bringing in as much as Rs70 lakh in toll revenues everyday. A spokesperson for DS Constructions Ltd, the lead partner in Jaypee DSC Ventures, however, declined to release revenue details.