Widening of state's killer highway awaits Centre's nod since 2009

Written By Unknown on Rabu, 20 Maret 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: The Centre has already approved four-laning of an 8,000 km stretch of national highways across the country, but shockingly the state's highest killer, the 475 km Mumbai-Goa Highway (NH17), is not part of it. The state submitted a proposal in 2009 to widen the highway, which is 6 meters at most stretches, but only two phases have been approved by the Centre. Tuesday's mishap again highlighted that the expansion project is long overdue.

Experts and officials blame recurring accidents, like the one that occurred on Tuesday, on the Centre's delay in funding the expansion programme. Built in the British period it is still strong enough to carry traffic but is one of the busiest national highways in the country. A 391-km stretch of the NH17 which passes through hilly terrain and over rivers and creeks is actually a two-lane road. Work on expansion of 84 km between Panvel and Indapur, approved in 2011, has just started and will take two years for completion. Between January 2006 and December 2012 the highway has seen 7,721 mishaps killing 1,731 travelers. Most vehicles now take the Pune-Satara-Kolhapur route to reach Sindhudurg.

"The Centre has approved certain other smaller works such as improvement of curves, hair-pin bends, black spots and uneven stretches. We will implement it, but it is not a permanent solution to the growing mishaps and hence road widening is inevitable," said a source.

While all highways leading to Mumbai from Surat, Nashik, and Pune have been widened, experts expressed surprise over the delay in widening the equally important Goa highway. "Even if the Centre now approves the four-laning following Tuesday's mishap, work can't be completed at least till 2018. Several other permissions have to be obtained before work can even start," said sources in the state public works department, which maintains national highway stretches in the state.

Moreover, NH-17 does not have trauma centres or well-equipped ambulances resulting in increased casualties due to lack of timely medical aid. On Tuesday, the driver virtually broke the railings after losing control of the vehicle. "We have installed signs to warn of the narrow bridge ahead. Such spots will be safer only when the expansion programme is implemented. In the project we have already proposed another two-lane bridge parallel to this existing bridge," said an official linked to NHAI.

In fact, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation recently invited tourist operators to run its five new multi-axle Volvo tourist buses across the Konkan. However, only one transporter approached the MTDC, as most operators felt the buses were too big to ply on the narrow Goa highway. MTDC managing director Jagdish Patil said a tourist operator would be finalised soon and the buses would run only on wide enough stretches.

Times View

Speed up the widening work

The Mumbai-Goa National Highway is important on several counts. Besides being one of the busiest highways in the state, the profile of users - tourists from within the state, Indians from other states and foreigners - also adds to its importance. It's unfortunate that expansion plans for this highway have been on hold for years. A highway, actually, is a misnomer for a road that, for major stretches, has just two lanes. The government should speed up the expansion plans and focus on other safety measures, including lights and dividers for the accident-prone zones.

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