When vehicles, especially those that can easily clock speeds of 130 – 140 kmph, take East Coast Road they do not think that residents from any of the 54 villages living alongside will come in their way.
But often that is not the case. According to statistics, there is one accident every day and around 10 to 15 fatal accidents happen in a year on the 113-km road between Akkarai and Keezh Puthupattu near Puducherry.
The number of fatal accidents is more on the 25-km stretch between Thiruvanmiyur and Muttukadu. According to the traffic police, till June this year, it has witnessed 103 accidents and of those, 28 were fatal. Most fatal accidents occur between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. A majority of them (close to 50 per cent) involve pedestrians.
East Coast Road, which was formed in 1998 by interlinking a series of small village roads that connected fishing villages along the coast of Bay of Bengal, now serves tourists and weekend revelers more than it does fishermen, farmers, daily wage labourers and schoolchildren.
A fisherman of Kovalam, R.Narayanan, said at least 10 persons from his village had died while crossing the road. “Something has to be done to reduce the speed of vehicles near human habitations. There is no use in putting up boards showing speed limits or marking accident prone zones. The road has not improved our lives beyond providing better connectivity,” he said.
M. Ravi, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), said, “The narrow carriageway is one of the reasons for accidents” as the traffic density has far exceeded the 2001 (when the road was inaugurated) levels of 3,000 vehicles per day.
According to him, though over-speeding is a major problem, speed breakers cannot be introduced on the road as it is a national highway. “We have written to the Highways Department to improve lighting along certain specific stretches,” he said.
A senior traffic official said that black spots where fatal accidents have repeatedly taken place are marked to caution drivers to slow down.
In an effort to reduce accidents, both the Tamil Nadu Road Development Company (TNRDC) that manages the 113.20-km stretch and the Highways Department that maintains 10.5 km from Thiruvanmiyur to Akkarai have proposed to widen the road.
According to sources, the Highways Department has sought permission from the State government to acquire land in six villages to widen the stretch into six lanes.
The process has started in one village has started and is expected to be completed in three months.
Based on the feasibility report submitted by the TNRDC, the permission for preparation of Detailed Project Report would be accorded in a week. The company aims at making the road into four lanes up to Mamallapuram and from there on straighten the curves that number 15.
For the number of tourist destinations and hospitality projects dotting the stretch, the expansion plan couldn't have come at a better time. The stretch has contributed immensely to the growth in the annual tourist inflow.
S. Nandagopal, Secretary, Cholamandalam Artists Village, said: “The expansion would improve both aesthetics and safety of the road.” However, it should not be undertaken against the interests of local residents. Due compensation must be provided to those who would be losing a portion of their lands, he said.
With the State government planning to announce a support package and incentives for hospitality projects along the stretch, the expansion would help to boost tourist inflow, say Tourism Department officials.
“Rajiv Gandhi Salai, Sriperumbudur and Ennore were seen as potential spaces for industrial and commercial growth some years ago. They are now saturated with IT companies and industries. ECR, on the other hand, has always been a sought-after location for tourists. Despite a head-spinning count of resorts and theme parks along the stretch, ECR has room for further development,” says A.C. Mohandoss Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation.
Real estate boom
The expansion would not just attract more growth in the tourism sector but also might give a fillip to the real estate sector. Markand Desai, a property developer on ECR, said expansion would help bring down accidents and facilitate smoother traffic movement.
“It would be advantageous to road users as well as residents. The city's limits are continuously expanding and the day is not far away when Mahabalipuram will be part of Chennai. It is necessary to create infrastructure keeping this in mind. Rajiv Gandhi Salai was created after the settlements came,” he said.
(With inputs from Deepa H Ramakrishnan, Ajai Sreevatsan and S. Aishwarya)