The ‘Steel flyover’ issue took Bengaluru city by storm. The focus of the activists is now extended to all other elevated projects coming up in the city, announced years ago but mired in secrecy, with little information on public domain. One such major project is a network of five elevated corridors, anounced by the Chief Minister in his speech for Budget 2016-2017.
One person who has been pushing for this project is Rajendra Kumar Misra, or RK Misra as he is popularly known in elite circles of Bengaluru. He has been the member of BBMP’s Technical Advisory Committee since 2011. He is also the trustee of two non-governmental organisations, Sahyog and Centre for Smart Cities.
Sahyog describes itself as Indian Council of Public Private Partnerships, whose mission is to advocate and facilitate public-private partnership in the areas of public policy formulation and provision of infrastructure and services. The NGO prides itself in taking initiatives for Bangalore’s first PPP roads.
The first road work undertaken by Sahyog was Old Airport Road, from Kundalahalli to Saibaba Ashram. 11 km of road was developed at a cost of Rs 11 crore, out of which half the money was contributed by private parties. Misra says the NGO was involved in construction of the Marathahalli bridge, and has offered to rejuvenate a lake recently.
Misra has been writing in his website since 2012 that Bengaluru needs multilayer-multimodal transport corridors. Outer Ring Road Corridor, North East and North South Corridors are some of what he has proposed. The other NGO founded by RK Misra, Centre for Smart Cities, among many other presentations, has a detailed plan for an elevated corridor network in Bengaluru.
In light of Misra’s involvement in the advocacy and project plan for elevated corridor, we spoke to him to understand his idea better. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Since when has this elevated corridor project been in the planning stage?
A: We proposed the initial idea through Centre for Smart Cities in late 2014 along with a pre-feasibility report (PFR).
Q: So once the project proposal was ready, what did you do with it?
A: The project plan was proposed to the BBMP. It was presented before BBMP’s Technical Advisory Committee. Then it was placed before the state government. The Urban Development Department (UDD) directed the BBMP to prepare a Detailed Feasibility Report. Subsequently given the scale and complexity of the project, UDD decided to hand over the project to the specialized road building agency of Public Works Department, Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd.
Q: Was this project discussed in the Vision Group?
A: I don’t remember this project being discussed in the vision group. The Vision group chaired by the Chief Minister doesn’t discuss projects. But the CM has mentioned it in the budget speech itself.
Q: What is the current status of the project?
A: KRDCL called for tenders for preparing Detailed Feasibility Report (DFR)last year. A consortium led by American Engineering firm AECOM was selected to prepare DFR for the project. The DFR preparation is underway.
Q: Who was involved in the actual design of the route maps and up and down ramps? How was it planned?
A: Technical experts from the Centre for Smart Cities and consultants prepared the pre-feasibility report in which they proposed basic alignments and up-down ramps at major road junctions. So if you are driving from Hebbal to Silk Board on the North-South Elevated Corridor, the logical next up-down ramps will be at Mekhri Circle, followed by Cantonment, Minsk Square, Richmond Circle etc. But final alignments along with up-down ramp locations will be decided during DPR preparation based on traffic study and space availability.
Q: How different could the ongoing DFR plan be from what you proposed?
A: It could be a lot different. In the pre-feasibility report we had just proposed the basic idea, which will get a concrete shape in the DFR. They are going to look at the project based on vehicular traffic, land availability and other geotechnical aspects etc.
Q: What is the extent of land acquisition likely to be involved in this project?
A: We had a basic principle to reduce the land acquisition to minimum and avoid tree cutting at any cost. The elevated corridors will be built on the pillars in the middle (on the median) of the existing 4/6 lane roads.
In our pre-feasibility report, we have mentioned that there won’t be any major land acquisition because the elevated corridors run through the middle of the existing roads. The idea is to build entry-exit ramps at government land or additional land, wherever it is available, so as to avoid the acquisition of private property.
Q: Can you explain how the elevated corridor runs through the middle of the road, without disturbing the existing road space?
A: The elevated corridor rests on pillars. These pillars will come on the medians of the existing roads. Width of these pillars will be approximately 2.00 metres while the average median width is 1.5 metres. There will not be a reduction in the width of the road below, though there might be some exceptions.
Q: Several roads in Bengaluru do not have medians at all. Or even if they exist, the width is just about 1 feet maximum, and a lot less than 1.2 metres. So how will the pillars be put in such a case? Won’t this further shrink the existing carriage way at surface level?
A: The roads where these corridors are proposed have medians except in a few small stretches. Also existing roads will be made to have uniform lane width to ensure smooth traffic flow.
Q: What is the guiding principle of the project plan?
A: The elevated corridor project is planned based on two traffic directions of the city – North-South and East-West, with interconnecting and loop elevated corridors. The corridors will be made over and above the existing roads with minimum land acquisition and least impact on the environment.
The idea is that the road below anyway exists, but is extremely congested. By creating additional space through elevated corridors, we are enhancing the traffic carrying capacity of the road below. Given that the horizontal widening of these roads in a fully developed city like Bangalore is not possible, we are only left with the option of going vertical. Given that you cannot widen the road below, put a pillar in the middle of the existing road and make a road over the road – the elevated corridor.
To explain it better, instead of making 13 flyovers by spending huge amounts of money and still having a choked ORR we should have gone for a fully elevated corridor all along ORR from Silk Board to Hebbal via KR Puram. That would have doubled the road capacity of ORR. So here instead of making flyovers at every junction on these East-West and North-East arterial roads, we have proposed a long flyover all along these roads calling it the elevated corridor.
Q: Most roads in the city are not 6-lane roads and they do not have uniform carriage width. They need to be widened to achieve this, right?
A: You can do elevated corridors without widening the existing roads. Most of the roads taken under this project are either 4-lane or 6-lane. For example, if you take the East-West Corridor, it starts from K R Puram lake and goes to Yeshwantpur. From KR Puram lake all the way to NGF, it is a 6-lane road and from NGF all the way to Yeshwantpur (Goraguntepalya) it has 4 lanes.
Also, when you build an elevated corridor on the top of existing 4 lane road, you can build 6 lanes as you do not have to provide for footpaths. So the road below could be 4-lane but the one above could be 6-lane. Of course, exceptions will be there, where 6 lanes may not be possible due to proximity to buildings etc, but those are few. For such places, where there is a narrow road below and there is lack of space for a 6-lane corridor above, the alternative is to create two-level corridors, with three lanes each. If level one serves vehicles coming from one direction, level two will have vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
Q: In several places, the proposed metro lane and the elevated corridor run parallelly. So don’t you think without the involvement of Metro in preparing DPR, there will be a coordination problem in future?
A: Metro is being consulted and there is close coordination between KRDCL and Metro.
Q: If a road hosts both Metro and the elevated corridor on two different levels (5.5 mt and 11 mt), having a pillar on the elevated road will further shrink the carriageway that is supposed to be 6 lanes. Considering all these, has enough thought gone into the planning?
A: No such stretch exists in the proposed Elevated Corridors route.
Q: What is the plan for funding it? If it is under a PPP, will it be tolled?
A: An interesting aspect of this project is that the government need not put any money into this. In fact, I would say, the government should not put money into such projects. In a city like Bengaluru, where people are able to afford travel by cars, they are even ready to pay toll if you provide them a good traffic-free road.
Under PPP, there are 2-3 models which the government can take up. Either give it to a private firm and allow them to toll, or get into an agreement with the private parties to pay them in an annuity model. Under the annuity system, the government pays the total project cost, interest cost and return on investments to the private party in instalments over a period of 10-15 years. Many companies both from India and abroad would be interested to invest in large infrastructure projects, especially in Bengaluru.
Q: Has there been a public consultation on the idea itself? Isn’t it wrong to go for public consultations once the government has spent money on detailed feasibility reports?
A: First, there should be clarity on what is public consultation. What should be the format for a public consultation? In a city like Bengaluru with 1.2 crore population, where should the government organise meetings, who should be invited and what kind of inputs should they get? While public consultation is necessary, equally important is the format – it should be open, democratic and accessible to all who have interest or an opinion on the subject.
According to me, the government should put the DPR in public domain on its website, give enough publicity and seek suggestions. Valid inputs should be incorporated. Public consultation should be done after the DPR is ready, so that the dialogue is meaningful and the suggestions are specific.
Q: Looks like citizens have started opposing any infrastructure that supports private transport, the focus is on improving public transport now. What do you think of it?
A: While public transport should be given the highest priority, specially Metro, but even after it is fully built, hopefully by 2025, Metro will carry just 10-15% of the total traffic. Currently BMTC is catering to 40-50% of the traffic, but due to extreme congestion, the average speed of BMTC is just 8-10 km/hr. If we reduce the traffic congestion by creating extra road capacity through elevated corridors, BMTC buses can move faster and provide a reliable service using “Bus Priority Lanes” thus attracting more commuters. Many people will leave their cars at home and use BMTC if the service is faster and reliable. So, by building Elevated Corridors we will actually improve the efficiency and usage of public transport.
We need a very robust public transport system which is not possible without good quality roads, having capacity commensurate with Bangalore’s population and projected economic growth. Metro and Suburban rail will help but unless BMTC services are also improved, we will continue to suffer. As explained above, the elevated Corridor will help promote public transport.
Q: Will this project involve tree felling? Any realistic estimation of how many trees may have to be chopped?
A: Given that the corridor will run through the middle of existing roads, very little tree felling will be required. The DPR should be giving specific details.
Q: Whose brainchild is the Chalukya circle to Hebbal steel flyover? Was there any consultation by the proponents of that project with you, to avoid duplication of alignment? (It appears that after Mekhri circle, the alignment is the same as that of the elevated corridor.)
A: I did propose the integration of elevated corridor and futility of duplication during various meetings.
Q: When was the Centre for Smart Cities formed? Who are the members?
A: It’s a think tank focused on the issues of Urban Infrastructure and Governance. It has contributed to the formulation of Smart City Mission guidelines. CSC has trustees and is supported by an advisory board and partner organizations globally.
Q: What do you get in return for taking up these initiatives?
A: The satisfaction of being able to contribute to the improvement of our city and country.
Q: Do you think the elevated corridor project will become a reality?
A: I hope so. The idea of TenderSURE was floated in 2010-11 and the work started in 2014. The Signal-free corridor concept was proposed in 2011-12 and the work was awarded in 2015. We submitted the elevated corridor plan in 2014-15, and hopefully it will be awarded in 2017.