The Bandra-Worli sealink provides relief to thousands of motorists in India’s financial and commercial capital, cutting down their travel time from the heart of the city to the distant suburbs
WORDS: N B RAO
It was one of the most memorable evenings for this writer, a longtime resident of Mumbai, who found himself atop a pylon tower, soaring 420-ft over the Arabian Sea a few years ago, and watching the city and the suburbs to the north and east.
For years, one had heard of an ambitious 30-km-long Western Freeway, which would link Mumbai’s western suburbs from Kandivali to Marine Drive, enabling quick movement of traffic. Unfortunately, successive governments simply ignored the project – as most infrastructure projects in Mumbai get waylaid by the authorities – until good fortune dawned on India’s financial and commercial capital.
On that summer evening in 2009, a group of journalists were taken to the top of the tower by the developer of the six-km-long, cable-stayed bridge, and were proudly presented with the most important road project taken up in the metropolis in recent decades.
From the top of the tower, one could see the entire Bandra-Worli coastline, including the skyscrapers that were rapidly coming up in central Mumbai. Fishing boats, which usually operated out of Bandra and Mahim, were unfortunately on the decline and fisherfolk who in the past would sail out in the evenings, appeared missing. Since the new bridge would handle thousands of vehicles daily,
security had been beefed up along the six-km-long route and restrictions had been imposed on the movement of fishing boats.
Mahim, located next to Bandra, was one of the seven islands that originally made up Bombay. (The other islands included Worli, Parel, Mazagaon, Isle of Bombay, Little Colaba, or Old Woman’s Island, and Colaba). Mahim was the capital of a king who ruled over the islands in the 13th century.
The Bandra-WorliSealink is the first phase of the ambitious Western Freeway, which would hopefully reduce pressure on the city’s roads.
Last month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), unveiled the ambitious project (now renamed the Mumbai Coastal road project), which it expects to become operational in a mere four years.
The freeway will link Kandivali to Marine Drive, through the Bandra-WorliSealink. The central government has given the environment clearance for the proposed eight-lane freeway, which will link Mumbai’s Princess Street flyover at Marine Lines to the sealink in the 10-km-long first phase.
The first phase, estimated to cost about Rs70 billion, will include a 3.4-km-long undersea tunnel. The second phase, of 20-km, will link Bandra to Kandivali through another sealink. There will be a dozen interconnections to the city along the 30-km-long route. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs150 billion.
The Bandra-Worlisealink is today one of the busiest arteries in the metropolis, and more than 35,000 vehicles use it daily. Motorists have to pay a one-way toll of Rs60 (or a two-way toll of Rs90) for every ride.
The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is in-charge of the sealink, wants to continue collecting toll from motorists for another four decades.
HIGH TOLL RATES
But motorists in Mumbai do not mind paying the relatively high toll rates, as the sealink cuts down their travel time by more than half. Travelling on the relatively narrow and over-crowded traditional route from Bandra to Worli can take up to an hour during the morning or evening peak rush period, especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when hundreds of thousands of believers gather outside the Siddhivinayak temple at Worli, the St Michael’s Church at Mahim, or the Mahim mosque respectively.
Of course, considering that Mumbai has limited scope to expand its roadways, even the freeway gets choked with traffic during the peak hours and is unable to provide relief to motorists, especially those heading to the airport from the city.
The Bandra-Worlisealink (and even the Kandivali-Marine Drive link) should have become operational in the 1960s or 1970s. Political and bureaucratic delays have frozen infrastructure development in Mumbai for several years, causing untold problems for motorists and bus commuters in the metropolis.