Expressway development has been a high priority area for the government for a number of years now. After coming to power the new government has yet again reiterated the need for creating a network of greenfield expressways. However, the segment has gained momentum only in the past few years with the fast-tracked implementation of noteworthy projects such as the Delhi-Meerut and the Eastern Peripheral expressways. Buoyed by the success of these projects, the government has laid out ambitious plans for constructing a world-class network of expressways across the length and breadth of the country.
Following suit, state governments too have huge plans for the expressway development segment. At the state-level, Uttar Pradesh has been a flag-bearer for the segment, with the longest expressway in the country, the 302 km Agra-Lucknow Expressway, and the 165 km Yamuna Expressway to its credit.
Into the past
In November 2006, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the construction of 1,000 km of greenfield expressways under Phase VI of the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP) at an estimated cost of Rs 167 billion. However, in October 2017, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) launched the Bharatmala Pariyojana, subsuming the residual works under NHDP.
Under Bharatmala, the government had initially envisaged the development of seven greenfield expressways with an aggregate length of 1,837 km. Of this, 800 km is planned to be undertaken under Phase I for an outlay of Rs 400 billion. One of the most ambitious projects being undertaken is the 420 km Vadodara-Mumbai Expressway. Work has been awarded for all packages under Phase I of the project while it is expected to be awarded for the re-
maining two phases by end 2019. Another major project is the 82 km Delhi-Meerut Expressway. Package I of the project was inaugurated in May 2018 and the remaining three packages are expected to be completed during 2019-20. Further, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has recently issued tenders for the implementation of the 109.02 km Ahmedabad-Dholera-Bhavnagar Expressway. Meanwhile, the land acquisition process for two projects, the 75 km Kanpur-Lucknow Expressway and the 262 km Chennai-Bengaluru Expressway, is under progress. The remaining two expressway projects envisaged under the programme – the 600 km Delhi-Amritsar-Katra and 274 km Delhi-Jaipur expressways – are still being planned.
The government plans to lay a network of 22 expressways in the next five years. While the initial plan was to develop 1,837 km of expressway projects under Bharatmala, the government has identified around 3,000 km of expressways to be implemented under Phase II of the programme. The MoRTH has decided to prioritise expressway construction during 2019 and lay the basis for creating a high quality expressway network in the country. Except for a couple of identified stretches, all the other projects will have a greenfield alignment. This marks a departure from the earlier highway projects, which mostly involved expansion and widening of roads.
The MoRTH has already commenced initial work for preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for Phase II. This has been done to ensure that sufficient time is available for the preparation of good quality DPRs and that these projects are rolled out immediately after completion of Phase I of the programme. Learning from past experience, NHAI has directed the consultants to avoid road alignments passing through national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to avoid getting caught in the time-consuming cycle of obtaining a multitude of clearances. Further, they have also been directed to incorporate the provision of separation of local traffic especially for vulnerable users, longitudinal movements and crossing facilities through viaducts.
Some of the key expressway projects identified for the preparation of DPRs are the 745 km Pune-Bengaluru Expressway, the 650 km Varanasi-Ranchi-Kolkata Expressway, the 515 km Indore-Mumbai Expressway, the 310 km Chennai-Trichy Expressway, the 220 km Pune-Ahmednagar-Aurangabad Expressway and the 120 km Kharagpur-Kolkata Expressway. Besides these, the Patna-Rourkela, Jhansi-Raipur, Solapur-Belgaum, Bengaluru-Kadappa-Vijaya-wada, Gorakhpur-Bareilly and Varanasi-Gorakhpur expressways have also been envisaged under Bharatmala 2.0. The target date for rolling out construction work for these projects has been set as 2024.
Uttar Pradesh – Leading the way
Uttar Pradesh has emerged as the front runner in expressway development in the country. The state government has announced plans to expand its expressway network to around 2,500 km by 2022, the highest for any state so far. At the top of the priority list is the 340.82 km Purvanchal Expressway, connecting Lucknow to Ghazipur via Amethi, Ambedkar Nagar, Sultanpur, Faizabad, Azamgarh and Mau. The project has already achieved physical progress of 10 per cent and is expected to be completed by September 2020. In addition, the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority has already invited bids for the 296 km long Bundelkhand Expressway from Chitrakoot to Etawah, which will connect with the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. Tenders have also been issued for the 91 km expressway that will link Gorakhpur to the under-construction Purvanchal Expressway.
Meanwhile, in January 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government gave in-principle approval for the construction of the Ganga Expressway which will pass through Meerut, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Budaun, Shahjahanpur, Kannauj, Unnao, Rae Bareli, and Pratapgarh and terminate at Prayagraj. The 600 km expressway will stretch across 6,556 hectares of land. It is expected to entail an investment of Rs 360 billion. Upon completion, it will become the longest expressway in the world.
Other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat and Haryana also offer a lucrative pipeline of expressway projects. One of the most ambitious upcoming projects is the 701 km Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway being implemented by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) at an estimated cost of Rs 553.35 billion. The project, being undertaken in 16 packages, is expected to be completed by April 30, 2021. Some of the other noteworthy expressway projects proposed to be implemented at the state level are the Narmada Expressway in Madhya Pradesh, the Yamunanagar-Bawana Expressway in Haryana, the Ranchi-Bokaro-Dhanbad Expressway in Jharkhand, and the Raipur-Durg Expressway in Chhattisgarh.
Learning from experience
Given the lucrative pipeline of projects on offer, the segment is expected to gain further momentum in the near future. However, as is the case with other road projects, issues such as land acquisition and funding need to be addressed in a timely manner. Further, given the huge scale of the projects, the land and cost requirements are also enormous. The implementing agencies should not shy away from adopting innovative ways of acquiring land to expedite execution of these projects. A case in point is the Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway where the MSRDC created the Communication Planning and Management Office right at the inception of the project to facilitate land acquisition. It was the first such initiative globally to establish a strong rapport with the farmers. As a result, 90 per cent of the land acquisition for the expressway was completed within 12 months. Another example is the Agra-Lucknow Expressway, where the Uttar Pradesh government adopted a unique land acquisition model to facilitate the acquisition of 3,500 hectares of land for the project. The landowners were paid twice the market value of the land in urban areas and four times the market value in rural areas. In addition to the land, the landowners were also paid for trees, standing crops and building structures situated on the land. However, adopting such means to fund the projects is likely to be unsustainable in the long term. Therefore, it is imperative that the necessary steps are taken to attract greater levels of private participation to help fund expressway projects.