Kochi is a city of toll booths that stop motorists at almost every bridge or road corridor built in the recent past. The Hindu, in a series of stories, is taking a closer look at these toll booths to find out how much longer they will collect money from motorists, why and how effeciently and transparently. The first of the series is a shocking story that reveals that the Aroor toll plaza will be there for all times to come.

The National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) delay in completing its Aroor-Vyttila road widening project and a cost escalation of 125 per cent have taken a huge toll on the motorists, who will now have to pay a ‘perpetual fee’ to get into or out of the city.

The agency spent an additional Rs 100 crore on widening the Aroor-Vyttilla stretch into a four-lane one simply because the first contractor abandoned the project half way through, resulting in the cost going up from Rs 80 crore to Rs 180 crore and turning the stretch into one of the slowest in the country.

The agency would also have been in a position to recover the expenses (through toll) in around 10 years, had it completed the four-laning for Rs 80 crore in time, in 2006. The work began in 2003 and should have been over by 2006, the initial deadline, but it was completed only in 2010.

Gea-Mecon was awarded the contract to four-lane the Vyttilla-Aroor stretch, for Rs 80 crore in 2003. “The contract was terminated after works worth Rs 40 crore was done, due to the slow progress of works. After a lull, the rest of the work was awarded to CVCC-RDS for Rs 114 crore. The total project cost – including that of preparing the detailed project report, consultancy and overhead expenses came to Rs 180 crore,” said C.T. Abraham, the Kochi project director of NHAI.

A former NHAI official had said that Gea-Mecon did not have the professional experience to carry out the widening work of the road and five bridges en route. Though the project cost increased by Rs 100 crore, all that NHAI could do was to ‘confiscate’ the firm’s Rs 12 crore bank guarantee.

The NHAI, says Mr. Abraham, does not view this as cost escalation, neither was a probe conducted on the fiasco that delayed the project by four years and led to the skyrocketing of cost. It still prefers to term the project’s retendering as “work rearrangement on competitive bidding”.

The 10-km stretch from Aroor to Vyttila is but a part of the 16-km National Highway bypass from Aroor to Edappally.

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