A senior official of the NHAI said that the toll rates are levied and hiked annually based on norms issued by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
With tolls proposed for two more roads and a bridge in the city, there is the prospect of the resurgence of anti-toll agitations in the coming months.
Motorists are already paying tolls for using over a dozen roads and bridges in Kochi and its immediate suburbs. Toll (or users’ fee as it is sometimes called) is on the anvil in three more stretches - Vallarpadam-Kalamassery (Container) Road (owned by the NHAI), Edapally overbridge (PWD-NH wing) and the Tripunithura mini bypass (PWD-Roads wing).
“The toll will be levied forever in most of the stretches, and in some cases hiked annually,” official sources said.
Many of the roads and bridges where toll is being collected are ill-maintained. Thus, commuters are not getting their money’s worth, unlike in toll highways in States like Tamil Nadu where roads and allied infrastructure are well maintained, said the president of the Ernakulam District Residents Associations’ Apex Council (EDRAAC) P. Rangadasa Prabhu.
“Most motorists do not have any idea of the rationale behind fixing the toll rates, while government agencies have not bothered to publish the details. The toll period for the Kundanoor and a few other bridges is over, but motorists still have to pay toll. Transparency is the casualty because of vague toll norms,” he said.
Mr. Prabhu wondered why heavy toll is being imposed in busy roads within the city, when approximately 52 per cent of the cost of fuel goes as tax to the Central and State governments. “The common man is suffering because the toll is in addition to the heavy cost of fuel.”
The Kundanoor toll bridge and the adjacent Alexander Parambithara bridge are badly maintained, say motorists. The bridges have been in this condition for years, causing accidents. Apart from plenty of potholes and undulations, the bridges’ expansion joints are in a damaged condition.
A PWD (NH wing) official said that toll collection cannot be withheld till the bridge is repaired. The repair and resurfacing work of the bridge was postponed many times, because the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways did not release funds. “We now plan to use the Rs. 5 crore sanctioned recently to repair the bridge, while it will be resurfaced using another Rs 3.50 crore, after the monsoon.”
Cars and bigger vehicles are paying upwards of Rs 1.25 per km as toll for using the 16-km-long Edapally-Aroor NH 47 bypass, where the average commuting speed is less than 40 kms per hour. This is mainly because of the four narrow and heavily-congested junctions in the stretch.
The collection of huge toll amounts from motorists for using public ways is not justified, said Hashim Chendampilly of the NH Samara Samithi. The samity and other organisations demanding a roll back of toll alleged that the rates could have been brought down if the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had four-laned the Vyttila-Aroor stretch at the initial estimate of Rs. 80 crore. The total project cost escalated to Rs. 194 crore after the first contractor abandoned the works midway and people are bearing the additional burden.
A senior official of the NHAI said that the toll rates are levied and hiked annually based on norms issued by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. “The wholesale price index is taken into account for the revision. As for maintaining the medians, none responded to the tenders that we called to clear the vegetation and to clean the drains,” he said.
The NHAI’s Edapally-Mannuthy stretch is relatively better maintained, but much has to be done to ensure a smooth ride in the Edapally-Aluva stretch. Narrow junctions and the absence of service roads has made matters worse.
Motorists have to pay toll for the Roads and Bridges Development Corporation of Kerala’s (RBDCK’s) Pullepady overbridge, despite the Kochi Corporation not widening the approach roads. The unscientific location of the toll booth has been hampering smooth traffic flow.
As for the controversy-ridden Mattancherry BOT bridge, the GCDA’s proposal to end the toll collection has not materialized.
The NHAI is expected to impose toll any time soon on vehicles using the Vallarpadam-Kalamassery (Container) Road, once the four-laning work is over. “The proposal to levy toll for the Edapally overbridge has been sent for notification,” said a PWD (NH wing) official.
Responding to allegations that the bridge’s approach roads were surfaced using 20-mm chipping carpet (the standard adopted for Corporation roads), he said that full-fledged resurfacing will be done only after three years. But this has not prevented the agency from speeding up the toll-collection process.
A revision of toll rates for the Varapuzha bridge is on the cards.