The Highways Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu, has in a recent meeting announced that the work on the high profile IT Expressway (now renamed as Rajiv Gandhi Salai) will be completed by March 31st. He has also stated that the main carriageway of the first phase from Madhya Kailash to Siruseri, spanning 20.1 km, and the ECR Link Road connecting Sholinganallur and Akkari (2.1 km) would be ready by March. The service roads are expected to be completed by August. It has been decided to build link bridges from the MRTS stations that are on the same route. The toll plaza will be complete by April and will be operational from July.
The reality on ground however appears to indicate that it is doubtful if the work will be completed to the satisfaction of road-users. A drive down the corridor shows that all is well on the stretch from Madhya Kailash. But from Kandan Chavadi and Perungudi onwards, it is clear that work has happened only on the road surface proper and not on the surroundings. It will be remembered that when the IT Corridor was promised, it was depicted not merely as a road, but also as an experience, with sidewalks, cycle lanes, bus stops that are set off from the main road and a subterranean corridor for utilities. As of now, these have not made an appearance anywhere except in the initial stretch. In fact the subsequent stretches do not appear to have any footpaths at all, thereby showing that this road is not going to be any different from the rest of Chennai’s thoroughfares. Drainage pipes meant to laid underground dot the roads and in many places, the road surface itself is damaged thanks to continued use. Also, in many parts, the road appears to become a four-lane highway contrary to the six lanes promised earlier. However, this may be an optical illusion owing to heavy traffic and absence of lane markings. Judging from the number of shops and semi permanent structures that still stand on both sides of the road, it would appear that the project’s greatest bugbear – land acquisition, continues to plague it. The Government has said that blacktopping was in progress from Karapakkam to the Sholinganallur junction (2.6 km), and from Sholinganallur to Siruseri (7.7 km). The main carriageway of ECR Link Road would be blacktopped by March-end. But users are asking if that is all that there is to what was once flaunted as a world- class highway.
The project, kick started in 2004, was estimated to cost Rs84.41 crores in the first phase which included the cost of setting up toll plazas, supervision costs and contingencies. The core activities included conversion of the stretch into a six lane carriageway with medians and road signs. The cost of land acquisition was not included and this was estimated to be Rs 43 crores. There was great delay in land acquisition and still greater delay in shifting the utilities. The contractor had difficulty in mobilising resources which resulted in stretching of the timeline. Acquisition of litigation free land was the first hurdle and resulted in the commencement of the project being shifted to 1st January 2005. The problems of over 120 linking roads in this area were apparently underestimated leading to further blocks in the implementation. Several religious shrines in the area added to the problem, what with their shifting becoming contentious issues. Clearly there had been several aspects that had been overlooked when the original project plan was laid out.
The first stretch of 3km was opened in October 2006, a full year behind schedule of the entire project. The remaining 18km was to be completed in June 2007. The cost in the meanwhile increased to Rs 117 crores. The present state of the project indicates that the March 2008 completion will be a paper one, with a lot of work to be done later. In the meanwhile, the traffic on this stretch, which stood at 22000 vehicles in 2004 during peak hours, has gone up manifold.
In November 2006 a petition signed by concerned residents of the city asked the Highways Department the following questions:
Q1. Is there a slippage from the schedule of completion of the strengthening and widening of the IT Corridor project?
Q2. If there is a slippage, what are the reasons for the deviation from the schedule and where are the revised schedules published?
It is not clear if the petition was answered, but once the road is declared complete, many more questions are likely to emerge.