Tiruchi and Chennai are the two important cities connected by National Highway 45, one of the busiest roads in South India. Conversion of the highway into four-lanes a few years ago ensured smooth and speedy flow of traffic. Gone are the days when people of Tiruchi preferred trains over buses for travelling to Chennai. Now, the extended highway has enabled buses too to cover the distance in six hours. While the commuters are happy about the drastic reduction in travelling time, the State transport corporations and private fleet operators are happy over the saved fuel and the reasonable cut in operation costs.

The development, however, is not without its drawbacks – traffic congestion is a serious issue, especially at toll plazas. The road witnesses huge volume of traffic, particularly at night. Five toll plazas dot the stretch between Tiruchi and Chennai and long queues have become more a norm than an exception at night. During peak hours, it takes 10 minutes to cross each toll plaza. The benefits the expanded road offers is outweighed by the traffic congestion, complain a cross section of people .

The toll plaza at Ulundurpettai is a picture of chaos with hundreds of buses, trucks, lorries, and cars forming queues to a distance of at least half a km throughout the night. The chaotic traffic at the toll plaza is to be seen to be believed, says K. Baskaran, a city trader, who frequents the area. While vehicles have to wait for about 10 minutes in the other toll plazas, at Ulundurpettai it takes not less than 25 minutes.

The TNSTC and omni buses now cover the distance between Tiruchi and Chennai in six hours, while cars take less than five hours. The waiting time in the five toll plazas is easily an hour. If the waiting time is reduced, it will immensely benefit the commuters in reaching their destinations at least an hour in advance, he says.

“No doubt, these toll plazas cause immense avoidable delay,” says D.R. Dharmaraj, secretary, Federation of Bus Operators Association of Tamil Nadu. The hardship experienced by the vehicle users could be mitigated by opening extra bays, marking separate bays for government and private buses which hold regular monthly passes, and posting adequate staff, he said.

The indiscipline by some drivers who jump the queue at the toll plazas worsens the situation. The toll plaza authorities could post adequate staff after imparting training to them in highway management and operations, Mr. Dharmaraj said. Regular and adequate rest for the counter staff will go a long way in removing monotony and in quick handling of the waiting vehicles.

Mr. Baskaran favoured posting of police personnel in all the toll plazas, particularly during peak hours, to regulate traffic.