The Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) is a long-pending dream of Mumbai’s citizens. The project has been stuck in limbo since 2004 due to a host of issues ranging from uncertainty over the implementation model to financing constraints. However, in a major breakthrough, in March 2017, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed an agreement with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for disbursing a Japanese official development assistance (ODA) loan of about Rs 86 billion to implement the project. Thus, with a large part of the finances in place, the project has crossed a major hurdle, paving the way to its award and implementation.
All about the link
MTHL is being envisioned as a freeway grade road bridge on the open seas that is expected to provide direct connectivity to passengers from south Mumbai to the upcoming international airport in Navi Mumbai. Once completed, it is expected to be the longest sea bridge in the country and promises to decrease the travel time from Sewri to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) from two hours at present to less than 15 minutes. MTHL, also known as the Sewri-Nhava Sheva Trans Harbour Link, envisages the construction of a dual three-lane main carriageway bridge across the Mumbai Harbour between Sewri on the island city side (in the Mumbai Port Trust area) and Nhava/Chirle on the Navi Mumbai side. The link will be about 22 km in length with a 16.5 km bridge across the sea and a 5.5 km long viaduct on land, crossing Thane’s Creek north of Elephanta Island. It will also be linked to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in the east and the Western Freeway in the west.
The sea link is planned to be a six-lane highway with a width of 27 metres. The exit and entry to this freeway will be through interchanges at the end points and at intermediate points on the Navi Mumbai side. A 4 km stretch under the project has been proposed to be constructed as a steel-only structure instead of cement and concrete as planned earlier. This proposed conversion to steel will add another Rs 40 billion to the project cost.
The construction of the MTHL will be undertaken in three packages. Package I involves the construction of a 10.38 km long bridge section across the Mumbai Bay and Sewri Interchange. Package II involves the construction of a 7.81 km long bridge section across Mumbai Bay and the Shivaji Nagar Interchange. Meanwhile, Package III involves the construction of a 3.61 km long viaduct including interchanges at State Highway-54 and at National Highway-4B, near Chilre in Navi Mumbai.
A bumpy ride so far
In 2004, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) made the first attempt to undertake the project and submitted a proposal to implement the project on a build-own-operate-transfer basis. However, the government sidelined this proposal in favour of a counter
proposal submitted by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). MSRDC invited bids for the project and in February 2008, a consortium of Reliance Infrastructure Limited and Hyundai won the bid for the project. However, still unsure about the project’s viability, MSRDC initiated another two rounds of bidding, which failed due to issues with the concession period. Further, in 2011, the MMRDA stepped in and appointed Arup Consultancy Engineers and KPMG to conduct the techno-economic feasibility of the project, and subsequently decided to implement the project on a public-private partnership basis.
In 2012, the project finally moved forward as it received clearances from the state government, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA). Several restrictions imposed by the MoEFCC and the DEA had to be fulfilled by the MMRDA. The project, however, suffered another setback with all five shortlisted consortium dropping out of the fourth bidding round. As a result, in August 2013, the state government decided to implement the project on a cash-contract basis, wherein toll would be collected to recover the project cost.
Further, in April 2015, the project encountered yet another stumbling block when the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) asked the MMRDA to submit a fresh report on the project’s impact on mangroves and the flamingo population. In November 2015, the project was cleared by the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority. Meanwhile, in January 2016, the FAC granted the forest clearance and the MoEFCC’s Expert Appraisal Committee granted the coastal regulation zone clearance to the project.
Finally, JICA formally approved the funding agreement in May 2016 and the MMRDA began the bidding process again.
MTHL is expected to provide better links to the proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport, Pune, Goa, and the southern states. Besides, it is also likely to facilitate the movement of cargo from Mumbai port, JNPT and Rewas port.
According to Takema Sakamoto, chief representative, JICA India Office, “MTHL will bring about a major change in the development of Mumbai city and its suburban areas. The link will provide crucial connectivity to the proposed Navi Mumbai airport and promote socio-economic development of the whole Mumbai metropolitan region.”
By ensuring high speed connectivity to the upcoming Navi Mumbai airport and offering quick links to Pune, the Konkan and Goa, MTHL is set to result in potential savings in fuel and time for travellers. The toll for passenger cars, as proposed in 2012, is expected to range from Rs 175 to Rs 220, while the charge for commercial vehicles is expected to be around Rs 800 for a one-way journey.
Evolving terms and structures
The ambitious MTHL project has seen cost escalations from about Rs 40 billion in 2005 to around Rs 178 billion at present. The MMRDA has allocated Rs 12 billion for the bridge in its budget for 2017-18.
JICA’s Rs 86 billion ODA loan has been provided at a concessional Yen Libor plus 10 basis points interest rate for project activities and 0.01 per cent interest rate for consulting services with a 30-year repayment period (including a 10-year grace period).
Better late than never
The state government’s previous attempts to bid out the project reportedly failed on account of stringent conditions of prior construction experience. Hence, the MMRDA decided to relax the bid conditions and eligibility criteria in an attempt to attract contractors for the project. Besides, the earlier condition that while firms will be able to bid for more than one package if they choose, no company can be awarded a contract for more than one package has also been relaxed. However, it has been explicitly stated that a single contractor will not be awarded the first and the second packages, as these make up more than 80 per cent of the total work.
Currently, the MMRDA has invited request for proposal bids for the selection of the engineering, procurement and construction contractor for the project, with the last date being June 5, 2017. While seven contractors have been shortlisted for each of the first two packages, 15 have been selected for Package III. The bidders in the fray include a consortium of Afcons Infrastructure Limited, Fluor Australia, and Shapoorji Pallonji; and a consortium of Daewoo Engineering & Construction and Tata Projects for Package I; a consortium of Afcons Infrastructure, Fluor Australia, and Shapoorji Pallonji; a consortium of Daewoo Engineering & Construction Company and Tata Projects for Package II. Meanwhile, a consortium of Gayatri Projects Limited and China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group Company and a consortium of Hindustan Construction Company and SK Engineering & Construction Company are among the shortlisted bidders for Package III works. The contracts for the project are likely to be awarded by June 2017 and construction is expected to begin by the third quarter of 2017. However, security clearance from the central government for the project is still awaited.
After much delay since its inception, the project is finally set to leave the drawing board and start on-ground construction this year. With the financing in place, it will be easier for the authority to mobilise contractors for the project. The tendering process has been progressing at a fast pace. Now, with the backing of the JICA loan, the target of project completion by 2021 is closer to becoming a reality.