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?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

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.

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