Bengaluru Infrastructure Woes: Is The Steel Flyover Worth It?

Srikanth RamakrishnanFriday, October 7, 2016 5:58 pm IST
The NICE Road Junction and the Electronics City Flyover on Hosur Road. Photo credit: Srikanth Ramakrishnan, Wikimedia Commons
The NICE Road Junction and the Electronics City Flyover on Hosur Road. Photo credit: Srikanth Ramakrishnan, Wikimedia Commons

The Karnataka cabinet recently approved a 6.72km-long steel flyover in Bengaluru, connecting Basaveshwara Circle near the City Centre to Hebbal on Outer Ring Road, in order to provide faster connectivity to the Kempegowda International Airport in Devanahalli. This isn’t the first time that steel flyovers have been talked about. The erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party government had proposed a 2km-long four-lane steel bridge over Hudson Circle and Minerva Circle to ease traffic flowing between the city’s central market and bus station.

The reason a steel flyover was proposed was to create minimal disruption as a steel structure requires lesser time to build. However, proper maintenance is required to prevent structural damage to it, something which our planners may or may not have considered.

A steel flyover essentially is a structure built with prefabricated girders. The structure is built elsewhere and then transported to the site and assembled. While this is also done with regular concrete structures, assembling a steel structure is faster.

The downside? The cost of the flyover goes up by a huge margin. The 6.7km steel flyover in Bengaluru is pegged to cost Rs 1,791 crores in 2016. Compare this to when the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) initiated a 10km flyover connecting Electronics City to Central Silk Board on Outer Ring Road in Bangalore in 2006, using precast concrete elements at the cost of Rs 775 crore.

Steel structures are not new to India. In the last few years, several rail over-bridges have used them for the sections above the railway tracks to expedite construction.

However, this is the first time that a steel bridge of such magnitude will be built in India. There has been no precursor to this, which makes it tricky. The tender was awarded to Larsen and Toubro, one of India’s most reputed engineering firms, which does reassure us of a good product at the end of the day.

Activists have opposed the flyover, claiming that it will only benefit private vehicles and will waste taxpayers’ money on something that will only benefit the elite. Of course, nothing stops Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses from taking the flyover. BMTC buses bound for Electronics City do take the 10km-long flyover in the form of express services. Airport-bound buses do make use of the Expressway-like stretch that the NHAI built from Hebbal to Devanahalli. With proper entry and exit ramps built, it would most certainly help all forms of traffic. However, whether buses take the flyover or not, is entirely dependent on the route planning departments of the BMTC.

Another point the activists and media have been opposed to, is the felling of 812 trees to build the flyover. Whenever trees are to be cut for any infrastructure project, the first opposition comes claiming that trees are being cut for ‘carbon-spewing’ vehicles. What people forget, is that traffic congestion causes heavy output of pollutants, and if vehicles are allowed to move at a consistent speed, buses included, emissions would come down considerably. The Bangalore Development Authority, on the lines of the NHAI, has promised to plant more than the number of trees that will be felled, and like most such agencies, is likely to keep its promise.

A few sacrifices need to be made for the greater good, and cutting down trees and replanting them elsewhere is not a bad idea. Further, in urban areas, where one would find trees literally stuck to each other, these trees are surrounded by concrete on all sides, thus stunting their growth. They have limited access to groundwater and due to their proximity to each other they can collapse easily.

In Mumbai, when the government decided to build a depot for the upcoming metro line on the periphery of the Aarey forest, opposition from the so-called environmental experts claimed that felling trees for a project that most people will not take is unjustifiable. This is a false notion.

Transport is something that affects everyone in society. Everyone has to go somewhere at some point in time. Thus, any project, be it a metro or a flyover will find itself takers. The more the utilisation of any such project, the faster is the movement of both passengers and goods. Faster movement is always a good sign for the economy. While indiscriminate felling of trees is not warranted, doing it where absolutely required, is not wrong. It saves the trees of the stunted growth and water-less existence that they are subjected to and gives younger trees a better life elsewhere.

At the end of the day, the steel flyover will certainly be a big bonus for the city. It will also set forward a precedent for future projects of a similar nature across the country. While a few trees will have to face the axe, it will be for a cleaner environment in the long run.

After all, don’t we all need clean air to breathe?

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