The demand to widen South bridge in tandem with Kochi Metro work has once again triggered a raging debate on how best to go about it.
The moot question is whether to demolish and rebuild the bridge, or to remodel it so that its existing width can be optimally utilised. As of now, the underutilised 1.5 metre-wide footpaths on either side occupy three metres of the 10.4-metre-wide space between the railings.
In 2008, Better Kochi Response Group (BKRG), an NGO, submitted a detailed proposal to the then District Collector to cede 55 cm of the existing carriageway to footpaths on either side, so that each flank has a width of 2.05 metres. These two side bays could be dedicated for exclusive use by two- and three-wheelers, which now share the road with heavier vehicles. This would reduce the width of each lane on the central carriageway from 3.5 metres to 3.15 metres. “This is sufficient since 3.5-metre wide lanes are mandatory for highways which cater to fast-moving vehicles. The speed within city limits is minimal,” said S. Gopakumar, president of BKRG.
This apart, the Motor Vehicles’ Department has specified 2.6 metres as the maximum permissible width of vehicles. They can easily commute through the 3.15-metre wide lane on each side. Besides, buses could go in either direction, though the carriageway of old Venduruthy bridge was just 5.8-metre wide. The main carriageway of the remodelled bridge would have a width of 6.3 metres. Heavier vehicles can use A.L. Jacob overbridge or Pullepady overbridge that run parallel to the South bridge.
Once the modification is done, the bridge’s capacity will increase by 70 per cent. Currently, the bridge is chaotic since two- and three-wheelers share the carriageway with heavier vehicles. Vehicles moved extremely slowly since two-wheelers occupied the same linear length as that of a car, Mr. Gopakumar said.
He spoke of how the NGO would take up the matter with Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) in the coming week, so that the bridge could be remodelled prior to the metro’s civil works beginning on its northern side.
Back in 2008, the district administration, the Kochi Corporation and the city police had given their nod for the proposal. A senior Railway official said a decision on modifying the footpaths had to be taken at the Thiruvananthapuram divisional level. “The proposal is a good one and can be executed provided the Commissioner for Railway Safety accords his nod. The State government must convince him of the urgent need to modify the bridge,” he said.
The bridge’s modification will, in turn, smoothen movement of vehicles from Manorama Junction and on the opposite side from Valanjambalam.