Commuting Made Easy
The Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai has greatly helped the city counter its growing traffic congestion problems. But is it still viable?
Mumbai finds a solution to the vagaries of daily commuting.
Over the past few years, Mumbai has invested in numerous projects designed to effectively counter its growing vehicular congestion problem. One of these projects is the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, officially called the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, which is a cable bridge with pre-stressed concrete steel viaducts on either side. It links Bandra in the western suburbs of Mumbai with Worli in south Mumbai. The bridge is a part of the proposed Western Freeway that links the western suburbs to Nariman Point in the city’s main
business district. Although this project has greatly helped in speeding up traffic to and from both regions and has reduced overall traffic congestion, questions are being raised over its viability, especially considering the government’s growing interest in dropping three upcoming sea link projects in favour of building one big coastal road. With opinions divided on both plans, it has become all the more necessary to give a closer look to the state of population growth in Mumbai so that the feasibility of each can be fully ascertained.
According to a study released last year by the 10th edition of the Demographia World Urban Areas, a regularly published compendium of urban population, land area and density data for cities with a population of more than 500,000, Mumbai is the world’s third densest city with over 30,000 residents per square mile. As of June 2014, the sprawling megapolis, which is spread over 600 square kilometers, has seen its population grow at a rate twice that of the state of Maharashtra’s and 2.5 times that of the country in the past 100 years. In 2011, Mumbai’s population grew to 1.24 crore, which represents a whopping 983 percent increase from 1911.
According to a news report published in the Indian Express, the cause of such a high growth rate can be attributed to the city’s long history of migration. According to the country’s population census figures, since Mumbai has long been viewed as the hub of capitalism as well as the economic capital of the country, nearly 50 percent of migration has been due to an increased availability of employment and business opportunities at large. Census figures between 1991 and 2001 pinned the number of migrants close to around 15 percent of the city’s population. This means that Mumbai and its adjoining areas such as Thane and Navi Mumbai may have attracted close to 24.89 lakh migrants. Out of this number, 15 lakh were from outside while 9 lakh were from within the state.
All of the aforementioned factors have led to the creation of one of Mumbai’s biggest problems; traffic congestion. As incomes rose, the number of car loans given to the public increased and a total of 1.5 million cars were brought in 2007 alone. This resulted in overall traffic in Mumbai to grow at a rate that is four times faster than its population. Not surprisingly, even though there has been a staggering 100 fold rise in the number of vehicles in the country, the overall expansion in its road network has not been proportionate to this increase. The total number of vehicles in the country has increased from 0.3 million in 1951 to over 30 million in 2004; yet, the country’s road network expanded from 0.4 million km to just 3.32 million km. The same holds true for Mumbai as an increasing number of people choose to travel in their own motor vehicles, thus resulting in massive congestion on the roads.
With the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, much of the city’s traffic has been diverted from its main roads, resulting in far less congestion than what previous figures established. The sea link, which cost nearly US$250 million to construct, has successfully reduced travel time between Bandra and Worli during peak hours from about 60-90 minutes to just 20-30 minutes. As of October 2009, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link had an average daily traffic of around 37,500 vehicles.
In spite of all its achievements, the sea-link has had to suffer its fair share of criticism, especially in the wake of a recent increase in the toll price travelers have to pay in order to cross the bridge. As of April 1, 2015, commuters traveling via the Bandra-Worli Sea Link have ha to shell out Rs. 60 against the previous Rs. 55. According to an official, the increase is due to a tri-annual hike limited only to the sea link. Therefore, a monthly pass of Rs. 2,750 for each car will now cost Rs. 3,000. In addition, the project has severely exhausted the national exchequer as it has cost nearly 5 times more than its projected cost and has taken over 5 years to construct.
Still, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation ( MSRDC), which is controlled by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), has continued to work on fresh surveys and moves for clearances on the pretext of uncertainty of whether Mumbai’s coastal road will ever materialize. Yet, all of that seems about to change as the coastal road project recently got a boost with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF) agreeing to issue a draft notification to pave the way for a coastal road in Mumbai by June 15. The coastal road, which is proposed to be a freeway along Mumbai’s coastline from South Mumbai’s Nariman Point to the far western suburb of Khandivali, is expected to provide relief to scores of commuters who currently take up to three hours to travel the distance in peak hour traffic. It also aims to add recreational spaces in the form of open green patches, a sight rarely seen in Mumbai. In addition, the government has promised to create marinas and promenades and provide pedestrians access to the green patches to either walk or cycle.
Whatever the case may be, as long as the people of Mumbai are able to get to their workplaces in time, it may not even matter which project is given more significance. If anything, both may serve to complement each other by greatly reducing the overall traffic congestion on the roads, making commuters’ lives easier.
Mumbai is the world’s third densest city with over 30,000 residents per square mile.