Bangalore:As the Maharashtra government prepares to open a short, 5.6km stretch of the country’s first sea link later this month, eight years after the project was contracted and some four years later than scheduled, planners elsewhere are designing the world’s longest sea bridge. The 43km sea bridge connecting Hong Kong-Macau and Guangdong in China will be built in six years.
Conceived in the 1990s, the 20km Western Freeway project was planned as a string of expressways along Mumbai’s west coast to connect its suburbs to the financial hub in the city’s south. It was one of the state government’s many attempts to emulate Shanghai, but while China has built seven sea links in the past six years, India is struggling with its first.
The proposed eight-lane Bandra-Worli Sea Link is the first of the three-phase Western Freeway project. When this phase is inaugurated this month, only four lanes will be open to traffic. Work on the other two phases, linking Worli to Haji Ali and Haji Ali to Nariman Point, hasn’t started yet.
Infrastructure and traffic experts have slammed the project’s four-year delay.
Just four lanes of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link will open this month; even this is four years behind schedule. Kunal Patil / Hindustan Times
“There needs to be a proper traffic dispersal route at exit points like Worli and Bandra. Government authorities fear that without effective channels of dispersal there will be chaos on the road when vehicles at high speed alight from the sea link,” said S.S. Dhingra, professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and consultant to many infrastructure projects.
A proposed 4.3km flyover project at Peddar Road in southern Mumbai was expected to carry the traffic rushing from the sea link, but the state government has failed twice to obtain environment clearance. The design is now being reworked.
The 5.6km stretch in the first phase of the project will carry nearly 90,000 vehicles a day and reduce a 40-minute drive to 7 minutes.
“It will provide some relief to commuters but unless the entire 20km sea link comes up, the traffic woes will remain,” said R.K. Jha, infrastructure consultant and former chief of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
Jha had earlier proposed a flyover running parallel to the sea link in Worli to take on the traffic spilling from the sea link there.
The journey to building India’s first sea link project has been anything but smooth. Delays resulted from replacing the project consultants, changes in the basic design and financial trouble between the contractor Hindustan Construction Co. (HCC) and the state government.
Satish Gavai, managing director, MSRDC, said the project has been delayed primarily due to the change in consultant and in the alignment of the bridge. He denied that financial negotiations between MSRDC and HCC caused a major impact.
The second phase of the sea link will take another four years to be built, and MSRDC is currently awaiting cabinet approval for its revised proposal for the third phase from Haji Ali to Nariman Point.
As to the first phase, state public works department (PWD) minister Vimaltai Mundada said the remaining four lanes would be ready only by December.
International bridge experts say the focus globally has been on building long sea bridges in three-five years, such as the Hong Kong-Macau sea bridge or the 32km Donghai bridge in Shanghai, which was built in 3.5 years. China has built at least 10 sea links in fewer than eight years.
“The ideal way to build a long sea bridge quickly is to break it into phases and construct them simultaneously,” said Ganwei Chen, director of bridges, Halcrow Group Ltd, a UK-based consultancy firm to sea link projects.
The Maharashtra government is yet to hand over the contract for the second phase of the sea link, a 4.7km bridge from Worli to Haji Ali.
The project received only two bidders—a Reliance Infrastructure Ltd-Hyundai Motor Group consortium and HCC-John Laing Plc.
The winning bidder has to buy the Bandra-Worli bridge by paying Rs1,634 crore and then construct the second sea link. It can collect toll from the Bandra-Worli link for up to 50 years.
The Reliance-Hyundai consortium has quoted Rs1,392 crore as viability gap funding, which is the money it needs from MSRDC for the construction. HCC has quoted Rs2,466 crore.
Though the contract has not been awarded yet, government officials say Reliance Infra has a chance of winning the bid as it has quoted some Rs1,000 crore less than HCC as its requirement.