Bangalore: The Karnataka government is looking to solve the recurring problem of unmotorable roads on the national highway between Bangalore and the port city of Mangalore by constructing an 18.5 kilometre, multi-stage tunnel through the Western Ghats at a cost of Rs 4,800 crore.
An expert group from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has submitted a report to the Karnataka government on the construction of a four-lane expressway between Sakleshpur in Hassan district and Gundia in Dakshina Kannada district along National Highway 48 connecting Bangalore and Mangalore.
Under the JICA proposal, the proposed 18.5km stretch will include five tunnels, and four overbridges. A 2km arch bridge will also be constructed to provide connectivity across a valley.
The current 30km road from Sakleshpur to Mangalore climbs over the Shirdi ghat section of the Western Ghats.
The condition of this section of the highway deteriorates every year because of heavy rainfall—around 400 centimetre annually—and accidents are frequent.
In 2011, the state government spent nearly Rs 22 crore on repairing the stretch.
The proposed expressway, to be built over six years, is expected to reduce the commuting time from 3 hours to less than half-an-hour. The proposed road will also improve connectivity to the New Mangalore Port.
“Currently, consignments from several parts of Karnataka prefer to go either to Chennai or to Goa despite Mangalore port being closer,” said Karnataka’s large and medium industries minister Murugesh Nirani. “We need to close the gap in the connectivity infrastructure.”
JICA also submitted that the project will be financially viable if traffic density is around 10,000 vehicles per day. According to the figures furnished by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), the traffic density is estimated at around 8,000 vehicles daily.
Nirani added that the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) had expressed interest in providing technical assistance to build the tunnel with private firms in a public-private partnership.
Public works minister C.M. Udasi said the state government had already submitted the proposal to the union ministry of road transport and highways and is awaiting a reply.
“We had a long discussion with the Japanese delegation during the Global Investors Meet earlier this month and some firms have expressed interest in taking up the project,” he said.
The state government took the tunnel approach after it failed to receive environment clearances for converting the the ghat section into a four-lane highway.
Several projects in the Western Ghats have been held up due to lack of environmental clearances. These include the Hubli-Ankola railway line and a hydel power project in Gundia.