End of the road for single-lane national highways

As on November-end 2023, India had a national highway network of 146,145 km. (Photo: Mint)
As on November-end 2023, India had a national highway network of 146,145 km. (Photo: Mint)

Summary

  • However, single-lane national highways may be continued in hilly regions

NEW DELHI : All existing single-lane national highways will be converted to double lanes, and having two lanes with paved shoulders will be mandatory to get an NH tag in future, two people aware of the road ministry’s plans said. The new criterion will be defined in the rules governing construction of national highways.

A paved shoulder is part of a highway adjacent to the regularly travelled portion on the same level.

However, single-lane national highways may be continued in hilly regions. Broadening them would be considered only after an environmental impact assessment, and only if the project can be executed with limited damage to fragile mountain ecosystems, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

Road ministry secretary Anurag Jain had earlier told Mint that the changes in the highway criterion were being worked out to ensure that such alignments conform to today’s mobility requirements.

The changes assume significance given that India is implementing one of the world’s largest highway building programmes, with about 50,000 km of highways to be constructed over the next 15 years.

As on November-end 2023, India had a national highway network of 146,145 km, with just around 10% being less than two lanes as of December 2023. The plan is to convert as many of these to minimum two-lane stretches. Going forward, no highway will be made of less than two lanes barring a few exceptions, the officials quoted above said.

A query sent to road ministry on details of the proposed changes remained unanswered.

“The above has been in discussions for some time now; it would be a step towards maintaining a basic minimum standard for national highways and would be instrumental in bringing a minimum uniformity, safety and traffic carrying capacity. From another viewpoint, width of a road is also a function of traffic (current and future projections) plying on it and, therefore, only those roads that have sufficient traffic would be taken up as national highways," said Kushal Kumar Singh, partner, Deloitte India.

About 90% of the current highway network comprises two lanes, two lanes with paved shoulder, four lanes and more than four lanes. The length of four lane and above highways stood at 46,179 km (about 32% of total highway length) while that of two-lane and two-lane highways with paved shoulders stood at 85,096 km (about 58%).

The changes would mean that portions of the remaining single-lane highways would also be broadened to bring them above two-lane structure with paved shoulders wherever such expansion is possible.

Officials said that single-lane highways would only be available in areas where further expansion was not possible due to topography of the region or due to ecological concerns. This would ensure that such stretches become less than 5% of the country’s total highway length in the next few years.

The length of single-lane national highways in the country has been falling since 2014 when it used to be 27,517 km or 30% of total NH length as compared to 14,870 km or 10% now. Alternatively, the length of four lane or more national highways had increased from around 18,371 or 20% of total length in 2014 to 46,179 km or 32% now.

The road ministry is implementing a Vision 2047 plan that includes constructing 50,000 km of access-controlled highways in the country over the next decade and a half. Most of these stretches would be six-lane and eight-lane projects, facilitating faster movement of vehicles and linking various economic centres.

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