Government of India as a special case has reduced the width of National Highway from the national pattern of 60 metres to 45 metres for Kerala due to the stiff opposition from people. Still the Government is unable to take possession of 45 metres of land and thinking of reducing it further to 30 metres width. Even after construction, there is likelihood of strong opposition against toll collection and because of this, there are few takers for the construction of road under BOT model, when Kazhakkuttom – Mukkola stretch was tendered by NHAI.
Apart from the land acquisition and displacement, another point for opposition is against the restrictions imposed on people on both side of the road to cross over when a new highway is built. Some of them may sometimes have to travel a few kilometres to cross the road. This is a thickly populated State and such restrictions will lead to never ending public protests. Transport buses plying through the new highways stopping at regular intervals, operation of the signal systems etc will further reduce the vehicular speed. In small towns, in the normal situation itself, flyovers will have to be built in full length.
The aforesaid reasons are the main causes of delay for widening of highways in Kerala. As a solution, even though costly, it is suggested that elevated highway is a feasible option for Kerala. In 45 metres normal highway, the effective road width for four lanes is only about 24 metres, other areas left for medians and service roads. For elevated highways, the cost of construction estimated will be around Rs.100 Crores per Kilometre for roads with 24 metres width. This is not a high cost if one compares the cost with certain stretch like Karamana – Kaliyikkavila, where widening of existing road to 30.2 metres itself, which has proved very costly.
Cost estimates from Karamana – Pravachambalam stretch come to Rs. 375.93 Cr as on date. The total length of the road between Karamana and Pravachambalam is 5.5 kilometres and it can be seen that per Kilometre cost has come to Rs.68.35 Crores. In short, for a normal highway with 45 metres width, the cost of construction would be around 75 Crores per Kilometre – this may be true at least in South Kerala. It is suggested that elevated highways is the only feasible option for Kerala especially between Kazhakkuttom to Thrissur or even upto Kozhikkode,
# Already 30 metres of land is available in most of this stretch and it is easy to build one elevated highway of four lanes without any further land acquisition.
# The pedestals of elevated highways will occupy only 2 to 3 metres on ground and since no land acquisition is involved, the work can be commenced immediately. Otherwise, with resistance from people, it will take years to get the land acquisition completed and by the time the present cost of Rs.75 Crore per Kilometre will double or triple.
# No hardships for anyone due to land acquisition or displacement, and therefore no rehabilitation needed.
# People can cross freely between two sides below the elevated highway.
# Slow moving buses, which stop at every bus stop, can ply through the existing highway, and this will not slowdown vehicle at high speeds moving through elevated highway.
# No service roads are also required.
#There will not be any cross roads, nor pedestrians on the elevated highway and this will facilitate non-stop travel between ways.
# Normally Rs.100-250 per vehicle is collected as toll in newly constructed national highway. Since people can travel below the elevated highway without paying toll, there is no opposition on collection of toll for the elevated highway and therefore a higher toll; say Rs. 500 to 750 per vehicle could be collected. For instance, today, it will take 5 to 6 hours for one to travel to Ernakulam from Thiruvananthapuram during peak hours. But in elevated highway, an average speed of about 80-100 Km (minimum) could be maintained and one can reach Ernakulam in 2.5 to 3 hours. After initial threshold period of 1 to 2 years, people will prefer to travel on elevated highway by paying higher toll, since there is substantial savings in time, fuel and maintenance of vehicles to them.
# Since there is no resistance from public against toll collection, more firms will come forward to build this on a BOT model or at least under VGF option.
# Less fuel means, less import charges for petroleum products. Remember Kerala is one state where large numbers of vehicles are registered every day. There will be huge savings in terms of fuel import bills to the nation, which will offset the initial costs.
# Last and most important reason is the possibility of substantial reduction in road accidents. Over 3500 lives are lost every year due to road accidents in Kerala. Several thousands are crippled. Apart from loss of lives and hardships, a substantial amount is given as insurance compensation. This will be reduced substantially since there are no pedestrians. Partial funding can be obtained from insurance companies also.
Issues to overcome
# The construction of the elevated highways in narrow roads of Attingal etc without blocking the existing traffic is not possible. Land acquisition for bypass, widening of other by lanes to direct traffic may have to be studied and feasibility to worked out.
# Traffic diversion during construction may be necessary in some of the stretches.
# The Access / Exit inter-change ways, even though in restricted numbers could be constructed only after acquiring large tracts of land.
Considering all these, it was suggested to Govt that as a pilot, the 60 Km stretch between Kazhakkuttom to Kollam may be taken up as elevated highway on experimental basis, in continuation to the Kazhakkuttom to Karode stretch, which is already taken up as 45 metres National Highway by NHAI. Total cost for 60 Km is estimated as Rs.6000 Crores, which is not a big sum to raise for the State. Once returns are forth coming as toll in the stretch, that will instil confidence in the minds of investors, and more firms will come forward to construct elevated highways on BOT model, without any investment for Government. I request that the feasibility of this proposal for a pilot project may be studied.
(this is note recently given to the Govt and NHAI to think about a pilot project of elevated highway)