The sorry condition of national highways in the State came as a shocking revelation to chief engineer (southern States) of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways S.S. Nahar who inspected the highways on Friday and Saturday.
Mr. Nahar, who assumed charge recently, inspected the narrow, pothole-ridden NH 47, NH 17, NH 49 and the Kottayam-Kumily stretch of NH 220, where widening is long overdue.
“He got a first-hand experience of the hassles faced by commuters on national highways in Kerala. He was apprised of issues such as potholes increasing in size during the rain because of improper upkeep, inadequate cooperation from contractors and delay in obtaining funds from the Ministry,” said a PWD official in charge of an NH stretch.
After inspecting NH-17, from Kozhikode to Ernakulam, on Friday he left Ernakulam early on Saturday to inspect NH 220 and NH 47 up to Thiruvananthapuram.
Officials of the PWD (NH wing) kept him up to date with problems involved in land acquisition, dangers posed by sharp curves, and issues like encroachments on roads, lack of bus and overtaking bays, and dedicated parking lots on most national highways in the State. The need for proper drains to prevent flooding on highways was stressed.
PWD sources are hopeful of obtaining funds under the Centre’s flood relief package to restore damaged roads. Following public outcry, roadworks had begun at Edappally and a few other stretches.
Mr. Nahar was also briefed about the inordinate delay in widening NHs into four and six-lane roads. While the Centre was reluctant to provide funds for highways with a width of less than 45 metres, land owners were adamantly opposed to extending highways beyond 30 metres. Many NHs are still two-lane roads, though passenger car units (PCUs) that use them ideally require four or six-lane wide roads.
Mr. Nahar is expected to take up with the Ministry issues such as constraints in widening NHs, lack of funds for roadworks, opposition to toll at rates fixed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
Sources said narrow NHs and lack of upkeep were causing traffic hold-ups and accidents on Kerala’s highways. The State had the highest road accident rate in the country, with most fatal accidents taking place along the State’s NHs.
They said existing NHs could be widened into four-lane ones since land for 30-metre roads was acquired in most places many years ago.
“Four-lane carriageways need 14-metre width, at the rate of 3.50-metres per lane. A three-metre-wide median and 1.5 m-wide road shoulder on each side too can be built. Footpaths can be built over drains, reducing the need for land acquisition. Service roads can be built wherever land beyond 30 metres is available,” sources said.
With land acquisition delaying many highway-widening projects, a clear response from the Union Ministry is awaited on whether four-laning can be done on stretches where 30-metres of land was already available.
A senior official of the Ministry said Mr. Nahar was expected to take a call on possible short and long-term improvements to Kerala’s national highways.
On the delay in repairing potholes on NH 17 at Edappally, he said the Edappally overbridge and its approach roads would be resurfaced using dense bituminous macadam and bituminous concrete, after the monsoon.