The proposal by the Chennai Corporation to use vacant spaces below flyovers in the city limits and make them more vibrant has been received with a wide range of views from people cutting across a section of society in the southern suburbs of Chennai.

 Unlike the city limits, where the local body, the Corporation constructs and is also responsible for its maintenance, in the southern suburbs, the State Highways Department alone is responsible for the vacant spaces below the road overbridges. There are plenty of them all the way between Guindy and Chengalpattu.

 Public opinion and the stance of the State Highways Department over use of vacant spaces have always been in conflict. Recently, when the State Highways Department fenced the vacant space below the road overbridge below the MIT Gate in Chromepet, residents and petty traders frowned.

 “The land belongs to the State Highways Department. We are not disputing it. But, let them remember that the same land over which the ramps stand once belonged to us and we parted it for a price,” recalled M. Balakrishnan of Chromepet.

 Engineers of the State Highways Department made it clear that the vacant spaces below road overbridges belong to them and they always put it to better use. For instance, they used a vacant piece of land below the road overbridge at Pallavaram to construct a permanent office for the Projects Division.

 They were fencing the space below these bridges to prevent misuse by miscreants, the engineers added. Residents, however, are amused. “The MIT Bridge was the first road overbridge around Tambaram and completed more than seven years ago. Fencing the area below the bridge will have far reaching consequences,” said S. Ramesh of East Tambaram.

 He added that unlike the flyovers in the city, service lanes below the bridges in the southern suburbs of Chennai are not wide enough. “Free flow of traffic around the bridges and its service lanes should not be affected. The Highways Department should give standing instructions and also regularly monitor that there is no violation of norms or misuse of public space,” said Mr. Ramesh.

 V. Santhanam, a resident of Nehru Nagar in Chromepet and former two-time Pallavaram Municipal Councillor, suggested that vacant spaces below road overbridges should be judiciously used for landscaping, parking and allowing small merchants to thrive.

 S.P. Gandhi of Pallavaram Small Traders Association, echoed a similar view: “Without disrupting traffic either on the carriageway or service lanes of the bridges, small traders can be allowed to use the vacant spaces.”

Engineers and elected representatives of Tambaram and Pallavaram Municipalities are of the view that if they were able to work along with the State Highways Department for better use of vacant space below road overbridges, it would not only ease problems of congestion but also improve the scope of creating green spaces and sustain the livelihood of small traders.  

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