Agency’s move to steeply hike toll rates on Varapuzha bridge falls flat

The proposal by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to take over NH 17 and to steeply hike toll rates from Tuesday has fallen flat, following the intervention of the State Public Works Department (PWD).

Commuters along the Varapuzha bridge on NH 17 were particularly shocked as the NHAI announced all of a sudden that toll rates for the bridge would be increased by over 600 per cent. The PWD’s intervention has resulted in motorists having to pay the prevailing toll rates.

PWD Secretary T.O. Sooraj said that the NHAI cannot claim ownership of NH 17 that passes through Kerala since it has not spent a penny for its construction or upkeep. “The stretch is being maintained (by PWD-NH wing) using funds of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and we asked officials of the ministry to retain the road’s ownership.”

As per the NHAI’s proposal, cars would have to pay Rs. 25 instead of the current Rs 5 for single trip, with a proportionate increase for other vehicles. The proposal that was kept secret all along was seen as an indirect way of imposing toll over the Edappally bridge, by clubbing the construction cost of the two bridges.

A PWD-NH wing official said that the NHAI maintains only four-lane roads, whereas many parts of NH 17 do not even have two-lane width. “NHAI is unwilling to widen the stretch or to take over the upkeep of the potholed highway. It is focused only on toll collection, whether it is justified or not. The political leadership must step in to thwart such take-overs.”

Hashim Chendampilly, convenor of NH Samara Samithi, a conclave of organisations opposing NHAI imposing hefty toll on motorists, welcomed the PWD’s decision to prevent the NHAI from taking over NH 17. He demanded stoppage of toll collection on the Varapuzha bridge since toll for three other bridges on the Edappally-Kuttipuram stretch was withdrawn following mass protests.

“We will soon begin a protest campaign against toll over the bridge. Toll collection is not justified since Government agencies recovered the construction cost of bridges from toll many years ago. The State’s vehicle population is increasing by 12 per cent each year and this has kept the cash register ringing for toll contractors.”

Mr. Hashim blamed the NHAI for collecting hefty toll and for trying to frequently increase toll collection over the Edappally-Mannuthy stretch on NH 47. “NHAI has failed to ready service roads and allied infrastructure that are a pre-requisite for toll collection. Steps must be taken to decongest junctions along the NH since it takes over two hours to cover the Edappally-Thrissur stretch.”

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