Bengaluru: The only people who benefit from flyovers in India are the contractors who build them or the politicians who commission them, expert say.

The question over the utility of flyovers arises in the wake of an under-construction one collapsing in Kolkata, killing at least 18 and injuring 60.

Flyovers or grade separators are bridges built over a traffic intersection to allow people to literally ‘fly over’ the traffic.

People may think it will help them but grade separators or flyovers merely pass the traffic problem to the next junction, said H.M. Shivanand Swamy, associate director at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, considered to be one of the foremost educational institutions for urban studies in India.

Flyovers are often seen as a remedy to all the ills of urban transport in India ever since Mumbai (then Bombay) threw open to public India’s first flyover in Kemps Corner in the late 50s.

“It doesn’t make sense to build flyovers because they merely push the problems to the next traffic intersection," said Rejeet Mathews of the World Resources Institute, a non-governmental global research organization. “Even if you put up a flyover it will be crowded within a few years, so then you’ll be planning for the next flyover, you’ll be planning for a layers of flyovers... Probably not the right way to go."

So, why build flyovers at all?

Swamy says the general engineering criteria today says that when traffic at an intersection reaches a certain level, city planners think of a flyover, not understanding that one flyover in an entire network won’t solve the problem.

The Indian tendency to buy cars to indicate upward mobility also contributes to the problem. “Globally, there is enough evidence to show that increasing progress does not lead to increase in motorization, always," Mathews says.

Urban experts say that flyovers as tools to deal with urban congestion has been abandoned abroad. Several countries are tearing down flyovers or elevated roads, says Mathews. An example is Seoul, which in 2005 razed an elevated road, partly because it interfered with the city’s aesthetics, said CEPT’s Swamy, who headed urban projects such as Ahmedabad’s bus rapid transit system.

Naresh Narasimhan, who heads Bangalore architecture firm Narasimhan Asssociates, says that “the problem with flyovers is that if you build them, the traffic will come".

Flyovers were required on ring roads meeting arterial interchanges, over rivers (“where they are called bridges") or across railway lines (“because you can’t really argue with a train."), he said. “Otherwise, (building a) flyover it is just a simple way to spend lots of money."

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