Circumventing the Capital: Eastern Peripheral Expressway commissioned

Eastern Peripheral Expressway commissioned

With the commissioning of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), India has completed its first green expressway. The much-awaited project was inaugurated on May 27, 2018, providing signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad and Faridabad, and Gautam Budh Nagar and Palwal. The expressway boasts of several unique features such as the use of solar power on the entire length, provision of rainwater harvesting, a closed tolling system and deployment of weigh-in-motion sensors at all entry points.

The route taken

The EPE forms a part of the project to construct peripheral expressways around Delhi. The two expressways circumvent the city by connecting National Highway (NH)-1 and NH-2. The project was conceived after a Supreme Court order in 2005 asked the central government to build a peripheral expressway around Delhi with the twin objectives of decongesting and de-polluting the national capital by diverting the traffic not bound for Delhi.

The alignment of the EPE starts near Kundli on NH-1, traverses to cross the Yamuna river, State Highway (SH)-57 at Mawikalan, NH-58 near Duhai, NH-24 near Dasna, NH-91 near Beel Akbarpur, Kasna-Sikandra road near Sirsa, the Yamuna river again at Faizupur Khadar village, and Atali-Chainsa road near Maujpur village, terminating at Palwal on NH-2 to join the WPE.

Bids for the 135 km expressway project were initially issued in 2009 on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis. However, the project failed to attract any bidders at the time. Therefore, in April 2014, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) decided to split the project into three packages and once again invited bids on a PPP basis. Despite this move, the project could not attract enough bidders. As a result, in September 2014, NHAI decided to split the project further into six packages. These were Package I involving the construction of the 22 km Sonepat-Baghpat stretch, Package II involving the construction of the 24.5 km Baghpat-Ghaziabad stretch, Package III entailing the construction of the 24.5 km Ghaziabad-GB Nagar stretch, Package IV involving the construction of a 22 km stretch in GN Nagar, Package V involving the construction of the 21 km GN Nagar-Faridabad stretch and Package VI encompassing the construction of the 22 km Faridabad-Palwal stretch.

NHAI decided to bid out the project under the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) and PPP modes. The request for qualification (RfQ) bids were invited in October 2014. The authority received 167 RfQs for the EPC mode by the bid date but failed to receive even a single bid for the project on a PPP build-operate-transfer basis. Following this, the project was finally awarded for execution on a EPC mode to five private players. The first two packages of the EPE were awarded to Sadbhav Engineering Limited at a cost of Rs 7.71 billion and Rs 7.86 billion respectively. Package III was awarded to Jai Prakash Associates Limited at a cost of Rs 7.88 billion, Package IV to Ashoka Buildcon Limited at a cost of Rs 7.89 billion and Package V to Oriental Structural Engineers Private Limited at a cost of Rs 7.64 billion. The contract for the last package was secured by Gayatri Projects Limited at a cost of Rs 6.75 billion.

The foundation stone for the project was laid by the central government on November 5, 2015. In March 2017, the Japan International Cooperation Agency extended an official development assistance loan worth Rs 4 billion to the government for the introduction of an intelligent transport system on the EPE. Further, in April 2018, Indian Highways Management Company Limited awarded the contract for providing hybrid electronic toll collection services and toll management systems at the expressway to MEP Infrastructure Developers Private Limited. The contract is valued at Rs 0.28 billion and the contract period is two years.

Distinguishing features

The EPE is a six-lane, fully access-controlled expressway with entry and exit only through designated interchanges. It comprises four major bridges, three flyovers, seven interchanges, eight road overbridges, 221 underpasses, 46 minor bridges and 114 culverts. It has been constructed at a total cost of over Rs 105 billion. Of the total amount, Rs 59 billion was used for the acquisition of 1,700 hectares of land required for the project while the remaining Rs 46.18 billion is the construction cost. Around 1.1 million tonnes (mt) of cement, 0.1 mt of steel, 36 million cubic metres (mcm) of earthwork and 12 mcm of fly ash were used in the construction of the expressway.

One of the most remarkable features of the expressway is that it has eight solar power plants with a capacity of 4 MW each for lighting the underpasses and running the solar pumps for watering the 0.25 million trees planted along the route. Further, rainwater harvesting facilities have been provided at 500 metre intervals along the expressway, in addition to drip irrigation facilities.

Another unique feature of the expressway is the deployment of the pay-as-you-travel system, in which toll will be collected only on the distance travelled and not on the entire length. Toll plazas have been equipped with electronic toll collection systems to enable faster and uninterrupted travel. The toll amount charged on the EPE is 25 per cent higher than regular toll, which is equivalent to an extra Rs 1.4 per km. However, the pay-as-you-travel system is expected to balance out the higher price charged. The EPE has a 170 foot high toll plaza, with 154 foot wings on either side, which will house the ITS control system for the entire expressway.

For the first time in the country, weigh-in-motion sensors have been deployed at the entry points of an expressway. This technology, deployed at all 30 entry points of the EPE, will help in keeping a check on overloaded vehicles. In case a vehicle is overloaded, the entry gate will not open and the vehicle will be directed to an exit point where a parking lot has been constructed. These parking lots can hold a maximum of 100 trucks at a time.

In order to enhance the safety of travel on the expressway, closed circuit television cameras have been installed every 2 km along with the deployment of patrol vans every 25 km. Further, ambulance vans have also been deployed every 25 km of the expressway. Besides this, the EPE is also equipped with a slew of warning and vehicle tracking systems to enable real-time incident management.

In order to increase the aesthetic appeal of the expressway, miniatures of 36 monuments have been set up along the route. NHAI has also set up a digital gallery at the toll plaza to showcase holographic models of the structures built by it and offer a glimpse into the making of the expressway.

One of the major achievements of the EPE project is its completion within a record 500 days against the scheduled target of 900 days. This was made possible through the deployment of seven German large-size automatic pavers, using 20,000 trucks on a daily basis for carrying out the high volume of earthwork and faster clearance of bill payments. Further, monitoring of the project at regular intervals also paved the way for its early completion.

Though the expressway has already been opened for public use, several operational issues are coming to the fore. One of the major issues is the lack of proper road signages along the route and the absence of clear indications for exit points. Further, the deployment of the ITS system on the expressway is expected to take another year. In addition, the construction work on all toll gates except for the one at Baghpat, is still under progress. Though NHAI has sought electricity supply from seven different zones along the expressway, the majority of them are yet to provide it. Therefore, the street lights are non-functional at night, when solar power is not available.

Future outlook

NHAI is contemplating the inclusion of the EPE project in its future toll-operate-transfer bundles, once the toll collection from the expressway has stabilised. Toll collection is expected to commence in June 2018.

Reportedly, the EPE will help in reducing pollution levels in the city by 50 per cent as vehicles not bound for Delhi will be diverted. According to an estimate, 50,000 trucks will use the EPE, thereby reducing the load on Delhi’s already congested roads. Once the 136 km WPE is completed, the two expressways will further decongest Delhi’s roads by diverting around 0.2 million heavy vehicles daily. However, the WPE has been facing delays on account of land acquisition issues and is now slated for completion by end August 2018.

Along with the EPE, an 8.36 km stretch constructed under Phase I of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway was also commissioned. Currently, several expressway projects are at various stages of implementation in the country. Over the years, expressway development has gained traction at both the central and state levels, especially with the implementation of the Bharatmala Pariyojana.

The EPE has set a benchmark in highway construction by being environment friendly with world-class safety features and deploying smart, interactive infrastructure. With its before-time completion, it has set an example for other projects, in that timely and hindrance-free implementation of road projects can be accomplished with proper mechanisms in place.

Liya Rashid