We must admit our lack of competence in development of Highways and Expressways
By V. N. Prasad
Recently, I saw a video titled “China’s mind-bending mega bridge: A magical journey on the world’s most complex overpass.” It is worth watching a million times.
Road traffic converging at a junction is so beautifully (I mean technically) segregated and diverted to respective destinations. The junction is spread over several hectares of land and the highest separator is at a height of ‘twelve-storeyed building.’
I am sure it has raised many a brow even among AASHTO — American Association of State Highway and Transport Officials — an autonomous body in the US that designs and hands over completed road projects to the Government comprehensively and competently.
I guess NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) was also formed on similar lines. Whereas AASHTO consists of a private independent body of qualified and competent professionals, NHAI seems to be studded with officers from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).
I write this narrative with reference to the news item published in Star of Mysore dated May 25, 2023, titled “Bottleneck on Mysuru – Bengaluru Highway” wherein bizarre discussions are enumerated — all “slipshod” to say the least. Our system and practices are more reactive than the adage “first time, best time.”
The message is loud and clear. “Design teams called DPR consultants” cannot be merely the ones to draw lines with ‘mouses’ using software; without a thought to the intricacies involved in connectivity, geometry, drainage and convenience to the public and several other details.
Expressway lacks fundamentals
Our Expressway is a grand demonstration of the lack of these fundamentals, especially at the ends at Kengeri in Bengaluru and Kempegowda Circle (Mysuru-Bengaluru Highway Outer Ring Road – ORR junction) in Mysuru.
Generally speaking, data collection and evaluation in final design proposals are important. Several teams, namely geotechnical, junction designing, hydrology, materials testing and data collectors from intervening towns, villages, hamlets etc., have to ‘dwell and delve’ for months to collect the minutest details before submitting final proposals called Detailed Project Report (DPR).
The term ‘Detailed’ in itself encompasses the meaning of exhaustive detailing and accuracy in the process. Competence is the essence. The exercise generally is in the following stages before a DPR is accepted for execution:
1. Inception report and review of the report.
2. DPR based on inception report.
3. A comprehensive review report of DPR; to bridge oversights of inception report and DPR.
All of the above shall minimise the after-effects of ‘design deficiencies’, leading to avoidable confusion and ‘variation orders’ further leading to ‘escalations’ at the cost of our tax-payers; all ‘reactive’ phenomena. The very fact that the project costs overshoot is because the DPR and processes involved are incomplete in nature.
Common sense would dictate to the inception report team that there is a NICE Road and a Metro Line on the Kengeri side and therefore ‘exit loops’ had to be designed; one over the Metro to connect the Tumakuru side approach of NICE Road and the other to fly over the Expressway, onto NICE Road to connect Hosur side approach; instead of landing all traffic at ground level at Kengeri; a ‘bottleneck’ that even a Brahma can’t solve.
On Mysuru side, the ‘exit loops’ had to necessarily fly over the ‘aqueduct’, less than 500 mts approaching Kempegowda Circle; to connect the Outer Ring Road onto Bannur Road side and Hunsur Road side while the ground level one could lead to city.
Of course, all these need extremely high competence to coordinate with the existing NICE road of Bengaluru and ORR of Mysuru. But, someone had to do it. And, because none did them, we have a situation that looks ridiculous, to say the least.
Now, coming to the so-called “interim relief measures,” it all looks laughable. I contend that the RoW (right of way) approaching all major junctions need gradual widening over a distance at not more than 2 to 3 degrees, so that ‘medians’ could be narrowed to accommodate an additional lane of 3.50 mts plus another 50 cm for kerb edge and road painting widths at the junctions.
Now it’s too late
For our traffic volumes, the length of such turning lanes needs to accommodate 10 to 15 long chassis vehicles for the efficient disposal of traffic volumes. And such aspects need thoughts in the inception report, not now.
I doubt if the current thought process either can accommodate a 4.00 mts turning lane at 2 to 3 degrees ‘kerb inlets’. Else, we shall be exhibiting another school of hurried incompetent alteration. In the absence of a 4.00 mts turning lane width, I can right away see the backs of turning lane vehicles protruding into the adjoining lane. How do you tolerate such idiosyncrasies?
So, in ‘sum and substance’, we need to admit that we lack competence in the development of Highways and Expressways. It is no shame to hire highly experienced design firms from developed countries to establish offices in India, attach our teams to their offices, learn the art comprehensively to eliminate ridiculous mistakes and give good roads to our public. I challenge that this option would cost less to the exchequer.
Meanwhile, may God help our systems.
[The author is a designer of roads — highways and townships and has served on projects in East Africa and India as a designer and project management consultant. He is a product of UVCE, Bangalore, 1973 batch.]