Have you ever travelled from Dr Rajkumar Road underpass via Okalipuram to reach City Central Railway station in Bangalore? If you have, you will agree that it takes nothing less than 45 minutes to one hour to cross the 1.5 kms road. You have to beat heavy traffic jams on the uphill road burning precious fuel, avoid jaywalking people, vehicles criss-crossing at intersections, potholed roads and the heavy traffic load on the road.
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The long-awaited project of creating an underpass, rail over-bridge at the two Okalipuram railway tracks and the 8-lane corridor is proposed to take off in December 2013.
But will it actually take off? While earlier the administration, politicians and funds delayed the project, this time it is the trees. And trees have the protection of the 2012 High Court order.
While the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) engineers are awaiting permission from their colleagues in the Forest Cell to axe 80 trees for the project, soil and pile testing works have started. While the soil testing works started in July 2013, the pile testings works are going on near the Shani Temple, just before M G Colony. Meanwhile South Western Railways (SWR) are also chalking plans to shift utilities from MG Colony to elsewhere, so that the project can start.
The BBMP has got the final approval from the government and Railways for the eight-lane corridor, railway underbridge, underpass and flyover. All these will be made within 1.1 kms from Srirampura junction to Khoday’s circle- Sangolli Rayanna statue.
The project would ease traffic movement from Rajajinagar, Nagarbhavi, Magadi Road, Rajkumar Road to Okalipuram and CBD (central business district). Commuting from railway station to Malleswaram will also become easier.
All eyes on Binny Mill land
The BBMP held several meetings with SWR. The project also took some time, as railways had to agree on parting with 3.16 acres of their land. Permission from the Railway Board was delayed.
Another factor delaying this was the compensation to SWR for the land lost. It was unclear whether they had to be compensated with land or monetarily. SWR in 2013 decided to opt for Binny Mill land, which is behind railway station and is the starting point of Magadi Road.
This decision was taken as it will help railways in its expansion, functioning and maintenance, says SWR Divisional Railway Manager Anil Kumar Agarwal. However SWR is yet to get the Binny Mill Land (3.16 acres).
BBMP executive engineer A S Ramesh says, they had a tough time persuading S V Global Mill Limited (owners of Binny Mill land) to part with it. The government intervened and offered to give either Rs 70 crore or offer the same land elsewhere under Transfer of Development Rights (TDR).
So now, as the project has been considered as emergency infrastructure project, the government has ordered the company to part with their land. However, BBMP and government are yet to find the alternative 3.16 acres of land in Bangalore to hand over to SV Global Mill Limited in Bangalore.
The proposal of creating underpass and flyovers has been doing the rounds since the last four years.
If BBMP and political sources are to be believed, it was termed as the pet project of former law and parliamentary affairs minister and Rajajinagar MLA Suresh Kumar. It was his agenda for the development of his constituency. Present Gandhinagar MLA Dinesh Gundu Rao is also keen on the completion of the project.
In January 2011, the cabinet had approved the eight-lane road proposal costing Rs 115 crore. But after this nothing moved forward.
Former chief minister Jagadish Shettar had laid the foundation stone for the eight-lane signal free corridor in December 2012. But after that nothing seemed to have happened.
20 designs make way for final 21st design
Over many meetings with Railways, BBMP and government officials in last two years, 20 designs were prepared and changed. The 21st design has been approved and construction is supposed to commence in December 2013.
The final design was presented before the State Level Steering Committee and the Detailed Project Report was also sent to the Ministry of Urban Development on August 2, 2013. They have agreed to the project.
Ramesh says, “Now we are going as per the finally approved and accepted design plan. We will construct it in phases. Soil testing reports are awaited. Pile testing is underway.”
In pile testing, a pier is erected to see how deep it can stand and how much load it can take.
Temple, church not to be destroyed
Agarwal says : “We signed the MoU with BBMP two months ago for taking Binny Mill land. We will be building quarters and running room here, which will be demolished on Vatal Nagaraj Road for construction. Some open space for other maintenance works will also be kept.”
SWR will be improving the present back entrance of the railway station on Platform-8, being referred to as the new entrance for all trains going towards Malleswaram.
BBMP and SWR will construct railway under-bridges and flyovers on the Bangalore – Tumkur and Bangalore – Chennai railway tracks.
Lakshman Singh, Senior Divisional Engineer, Bangalore Division, SWR, says that the work will have to be done in such a manner that inbound and outbound trains on the dual tracks are not affected.
Explaining the 8-lane corridor project, Ramesh says: “Work on the road will start from Srirampura junction on Vatal Nagaraj Road and from Circus grounds at Platform Road. The existing church and Shani temple will not be destroyed. They will become islands. The MG Colony land will also not be touched. The slum between the two railway tracks will also not be displaced.
Circus ground belongs to the state government, which will be given to BBMP. BBMP is taking 5.10 acres of land from Khodays and five metres of land from Davanam jewellers, which is after Canara Bank on Vatal Nagaraj Road. These are being taken for flyover works.
The traffic re-arrangement after completion
This video shows the proposed traffic plan after the completion of the project.
Ramesh explains that the straight road from Okalipuram Junction to Khoday’s circle will be made eight lane (4+4 on either side).
Traffic coming from Rajajinagar to Malleswaram will have to pass through a two lane unidirectional carriageway at grade (on road level). Traffic will move through two-lane unidirectional underpass on Platform road when travelling from Malleswaram to Rajajinagar.
Traffic coming from Rajajinagar to railway station will move by the two-lane unidirectional flyover. Here traffic will start at Fountain Circle and then take a right turn and merge with Malleswaram traffic. Then traffic coming from the railway station to Rajajinagar will move by the two-lane unidirectional carriageway at grade.
Traffic flowing from Railway station to Malleswaram will pass through the two lane unidirectional flyover at Circus ground. Here traffic will get down at Circus ground. Traffic moving from Malleswaram to railway station will take the two lane unidirectional flyover at Platform Road.
Traffic coming from railway station to Malleswaram and Majestic will use the three lane unidirectional flyover. Here the road will divide-on one side traffic will get down the ramp towards Rajajinagar and for those heading towards Malleswaram and Majestic will continue on the flyover to reach Platform Road. Vehicles coming from Majestic to railway station will travel through the two lane unidirectional carriageway at grade.
Traffic flowing from Majestic to Railway station will move through a separate railway under bridge. But traffic coming from Railway station to Majestic will take Platform Road flyover and then take a sharp turn and join the Okalipuram eight-lane corridor at ground level to move towards Majestic.
BBMP will also construct a pedestrian foot over bridge on Platform road from Mantri Mall junction till City Railway station.
The project initially was budgeted at Rs 115 crore, excluding the acquisition of Binny Mill land. Now the cost of the project has escalated to Rs 226.83 crore, including the land cost. Of this, 35% is being funded by JNNURM, 15% by state government and 50% by BBMP.
Tenders were called one and a half years ago. It has been awarded to Simplex Infrastructure . The BBMP has awarded a fixed price – no variation contract. This means: if the project is delayed and the cost escalates due to varied reasons (like land cost, raw materials and so) the contractor will have to bear the extra cost.
Six months back, BBMP paid BWSSB, BESCOM and BSNL around Rs 2 crore to shift their utilities from there, so that works can start from December.
Agarwal adds that BBMP is yet to deposit around Rs 18 crore with SWR for the construction of the two buildings and rail under-bridge and flyover (where ever it crosses the railway track at a height of five metres.)
‘Much required project’
BBMP in its report to the government, lists the following benefits. They are-
- Signal-free flowing traffic
- Lesser traffic jams and signals at ground level road
- Reduced congestion on main and inner roads of Srirampura and Okalipuram
- Road safety for pedestrians.
- Improved road condition, ensuring smooth flowing traffic and good speed
- Saves travel time
Traffic experts say the whole stretch from Rajkumar road underpass to Khoday’s circle sees around 7500 vehicles per hour during hours, while during non peak hours it is around 3500- 4000 vehicles.
According Prof M N Sreehari, Advisor to the state government on traffic, transportation and infrastructure, “this project has always been important since the last 5-6 years. It should have been done 15 years ago, when west Bangalore started growing. This is the only road which connects the rest of Bangalore to the west”
He adds that commuting through this stretch takes very long as it is only road connecting Rajaji Nagar, Magadi Road, Basaveshwara Nagar, Malleswaram and surrounding areas to Majestic and City railway station. Traffic from here then leads to CBD.
It is a cumbersome project – making underpass and flyover at the same time and ensuring that the trains and buses can pass through smoothly. But there is no other way out. This is the need of the hour, he adds.
Additional commissioner of police, traffic, B Dayanand says: “Managing traffic for the police here is a very challenging task. The heavy traffic movement, increasing air and noise pollution levels add to it. Further, once the construction starts, managing traffic will become even more difficult. However, the project is equally important because it is one of the prime identified bottlenecks of Bangalore.”
80 trees to be felled
This project will have 80 trees felled. But interestingly, Brijesh Kumar, BBMP Chief Conservator of Forests, says that the permission has not yet been granted for this.
“The BBMP engineers had approached me two months ago asking them to give permission. But I suggested them to put this for public hearing as it involved 80 trees in public land. After that no one has approached me back again,” he says.
The trees to be cut are fruit-yielding, flowering and aesthetic. They are- mango, tamarind, jackfruit, Lagerstroemia, Pathodia, Tabebuia, Peltophorum, Gulmohur, Jacaranda, Neem, Mahogany and Ficus.
However Ramesh says that they will plant 700-800 saplings (on the ratio of 1:10) in the vicinity after the project is completed.
Interestingly, the High Court has given a stay order on the felling of trees for road widening, grade seperators and other infrastructure works, where trees on public land need to be cut, points Leo F Saldanha, coordinator of Environment Support Group (ESG).
He says that the order, in relation to the ESG PIL (WP 7107/2008), issued in 2012, says that to obtain permission, the Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act of 1976 needs to be amended. But since it is not done, trees cannot be axed. So this means that either the project would have to be realigned or wait till the act is amended.
Adding to this, environmentalist A N Yellappa Reddy says that, if the BBMP does not comply with the orders, it leads to contempt of court, and the person who granted permission can be arrested. The Tree Officer has the right to deny permission and the engineer can only request Tree Officers or the appellate authority.
So it remains to be seen how the BBMP will get its way with the trees on this stretch, in order for this project to move ahead.
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