Enhancing Connectivity: Strategic efforts towards achieving ambitious targets

In recent years, the government has been focusing on developing an extensive road net­work to improve connectivity across the country. Besides, the expressway segment has received an impetus with the rapid implementation of key projects such as the Delhi-Meerut Ex­pressway and the Eastern Peripheral Expre­ss­­way. Following the success of these projects, the government has laid out ambitious plans to build a world-class network of expressways ac­ross India. Through its flagship programme for national highways, the BharatmalaPariyojana (BMP), for instance, the government aims to co­nstruct 65,000 km of national highways in two phases by 2027.

Aiming high

Under the BMP, the government plans to build corridors to alleviate traffic congestion and op­timise the flow of traffic. This will improve connectivity to 550 districts (from the current 300) and increase the average speed on the national highway (NH) network by 25 per cent (from the current 32 kmph). The programme aims to de­velop 27 greenfield access-controlled corridors and expressways of 10,000 km length, which will lead to benefits such as a reduction in travel distance due to crow-flight alignments, lo­w­er cost of land acquisition (on a per hectare ba­sis), and economic impetus to the hinterland of the country through improved connectivity. For ins­tance, greenfield development of the De­lhi-Mu­mbai Expressway has 21 per cent low­er cost of development and has reduced vehicle operating costs by 9 per cent due to the tra­vel distance being reduced from 1,390 km to 1,260 km. As of October 2022, under the BMP, 2,422 km of expressways have been awarded and 726 km have been constr­ucted. Detailed project reports (DPRs) for over 7,000 km of gre­enfield expressways and ac­cess-controlled corridors have already been invited, with plans to award over 1,000 km of projects in 2023-24.

Following suit, the state governments too have chalked out plans for expressway development. At the state level, Uttar Pradesh has be­en a flagbearer for the segment, with the Pur­­van­ch­al Expressway (longest expressway in the country), the 302 km Agra-Lucknow Expre­ssway and the 165 km Yamuna Expressway to its credit. In September 2022, the state gover­nment gran­ted approval for two-laning 13 high­way projects. These 13 projects pass through Fatehpur, Sh­ah­ja­hanpur, Jalaun, Ghazipur, Prayagraj, Va­ra­nasi, Bareilly, Mirzapur and Pra­tap­garh. Some big-ticket projects in the pipeline are the Bijnore-Moradabad-Fateh­garh expressway project and the Upper Ganga canal expressway project.

During 2022-23, Uttar Pradesh completed 11 NH projects at an anticipated cost of Rs 130 billion. In the next three to four years, the NHAI expects to build another 1,800 km at a cost of about Rs 630 billion. Meanwhile, in Bi­har, the construction of the first expressway, the 189 km long Amas-Darbhanga expressway, is ex­pec­ted to start soon.

Expressway makeover

India is surpassing several developing nations in deploying cutting-edge technologies. The country’s growth in the coming decades will be de­fin­ed not only by connecting the missing links but also by the use of technology and innovation to create a lasting and safe structure that adheres to technical standards and engineering practices. Furthermore, the use of affordable, sustai­nable and recyclable technologies is fast building the arterial road network of India.

The 135 km Eastern Peripheral Express­way, valued at Rs 62.67 billion, is fully equipp­ed with solar-powered lighting and is India’s first intelligent transport system (ITS)-enabled road. Every 500 metres there are drip irrigation systems and rainwater harvesting structures. It utilises interoperable radio frequency identification technology (RFID), or FASTag, to collect 99 per cent of its revenue through electronic tolling.

The first expressway to deploy the concept of zero fatality corridor (ZFC) was the Mumbai-Pune Expressway (MPEW), where high-visibility patrol vehicles and drones were used to proactively locate parked or broken-down vehicles, remove or barricade them, and transmit the information to the police and road-owning ag­en­cy. To expedite emergency medical res­pon­se, data analytics was utilised to identify high-fatality zones, and move ambulances closer to dangerous areas reduced the average response time from 35 minutes to less than 10 minutes. Encouraged by the success of this strategy, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) now plans to implement it across the country’s most dangerous highways.

Other expressways such as the Delhi-Mu­mbai Expressway, the Kanpur-Lucknow Expre­ss­way and the Raipur-Visakhapatnam expre­ssway will improve logistics efficiency, with a reduction in travel time from 24 hours to 12 ho­urs, from 90 minutes to 45 minutes and from 10 hours to 5 hours, respectively. Additionally, apart from providing improved connectivity between Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi, the Pur­vanchal Ex­press­way would help in accident pre­­ven­tion, as a total of 16 ambula­nces are available in each of the packages. The lighting arrangements made on the interchan­ges, flyovers, major bridges, minor bridges and underpasses also have solar backups.

Stepping stones

As NHAI works to complete one of the world’s longest expressways, the Delhi-Mumbai Expre­ss­way, there are a few more such high speed highways lined up for completion.

In addition to promoting the growth of top-tier states, the central government has endea­voured to facilitate the development of other sta­tes in order to enhance connectivity and as­s­ure the progress and prosperity of all adjoining tribal regions. Recently, the government laid the foundation stone for three NH projects worth Rs 12.06 billion across West Bengal, two projects in Raiganj worth Rs 10.82 billion, four projects in Kharagpur, Paschim Medinipur district, worth Rs 53.51 billion, eight projects in Jabalpur, worth Rs 40.54 billion, and another eight NH projects worth Rs 30 billion in Ra­ja­m­a­hendravaram, An­dh­ra Pradesh. Further, NHAI is all set to take up the construction of a greenfield highway bet­we­en Mancherial and Warangal at an estimated cost of Rs 25 billion.

The Ambala-Kotputli corridor, also known as the Ambala-Kotputli Expressway, which passes through 112 different villages in eight districts of Haryana, has been opened for trial recently. The 296 km long Bundelkhand Expre­ss­way in Uttar Pradesh, completed within 28 months and well before its deadline, was inaugurated in July 2022, following the inauguration of the 341 km long Purvanchal Express­way in November 2021.

Buoyed by the government’s expressway construction drive, Maple Highways, an India road investment platform by global investment group CDPQ, has completed the acquisition of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway for about Rs 63 billion. In June 2022, Maple Highways had completed the acquisition of the Shree Jaga­n­nath Expressway, a 67 km toll road from Bhu­ba­neswar to Chandikhole, in Odisha.

In sum

Among infrastructure sectors, the road sector has continued to witness significant action as the economy pushes ahead on an accelerated recovery path. Additionally, major initiatives of the ministry such as PM Gati Shakti, the BMP, multimodal logistics parks, NH connectivity for ports, and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana have ensured growth in the sector.

Despite being marred by unstable rains and floods in parts of the country along with multiple waves of the pandemic, the accelerated pace of construction is expected to result in increased traffic volumes. This, coupled with an increase in toll rates, will support healthy co­lle­ction growth. The rapid construction of highways demonstrat­es the sector’s crucial role in the growth of the Indian economy. The up­­coming expressways will provide multiple connections to economic centres while safeguarding NHAI’s position as the co­untry’s premier infrastructure-building ag­en­cy.

Ishita Gupta and Harman Mangat