Perhaps the most talked about and high-profile infrastructure project in the State in recent times, the Bengaluru–Mysuru Expressway continues to be in the news even after being thrown open to the public.
While last year, the expressway hit national headlines after underpasses were flooded following unprecedented rain in Ramanagara, over the past few days, the project has been in the news after the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) started collecting the toll for vehicles using the stretch between Bengaluru and Nidaghatta with effect from March 14.
Apart from the clamour among political parties claiming credit for the project, there is much debate about who the expressway benefits and who it doesn’t, and whether the toll collected is justified.
Work on the 117 km project was taken up in two phases: Bengaluru to Nidaghatta (56.2 km) and Nidaghatta to Mysuru (61.04 km). It’s a six-lane main carriageway and two lanes of service roads on either side. The construction was started in May 2019, and a deadline of June 2022 was initially fixed. When sanctioned, the project was expected to cost ₹7,836 crore. However, according to the revised estimate, it has jumped to ₹8,478 crore (including the land acquisition cost).
On many occasions, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has claimed that once the expressway is opened, the travel time between Bengaluru and Mysuru will decrease from three hours to 75 minutes. Hitherto, motorists relied on the 4-lane highway. However, because of factors like traffic density and intervening towns between the cities, the travel time was over three hours.
The expressway bypasses towns such as Bidadi, Ramangara, Channapatna, Maddur, Mandya, and Srirangapatna. The total length of the bypasses is 51 km. Other prominent features include an elevated corridor of 8 km, 10 major bridges, 43 minor bridges and four road-over-rail bridges. The NHAI maintains that the expressway will help people reach tourism destinations such as Ooty, Wayanad, Madikeri, Bandipur and Srirangapanta much faster.
Raghunath M., who often travels to Madikeri from Bengaluru, said, “A drive on the old highway was a nightmarish experience. It had many traffic bottlenecks. The new road has cut travel time drastically. Motorists do not mind paying a toll for good infrastructure. My friends who use the expressway also say it’s a big relief.”
Though the expressway is a boon, reaching it is still challenging. From the Bengaluru side, it starts from Panchamukhi Temple. Due to traffic congestion, motorists spend much time on the city roads before reaching the expressway. In the return direction, the congestion from the Kumbalgod side towards Kengeri remains a concern.
Questions over toll collection
After opening the main carriageway between Bengaluru and Nidaghatta, the NHAI initially planned to collect the toll from February 28. However, opposition to its collection before the completion of the service roads forced the NHAI to defer it till March 14. People living in Bidadi, Ramangara, and other areas say the toll is exorbitant and daily commuters cannot afford it. They have also demanded early completion of service road work.
Chandrashekara R., a resident of Bidadi, said, “It is not right on the part of NHAI to collect the toll without completing service roads. The government is burdening people. People who rely on commercial vehicles for livelihood will also suffer.”
After the toll collection began, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) passed on the burden to passengers by hiking the ticket fare by ₹15 to ₹20.
Project Director B.T. Sridhara has been maintaining that barring setting right 100 metres of service road near Christ University, service roads are ready in the rest of the areas. “Near Christ University, the construction activities were delayed due to a stay from the Karnataka High Court. The court has now vacated the stay, and work has resumed. It will be completed shortly.”
On allegations of NHAI collecting hefty tolls from commuters travelling from places like Bidadi to Bengaluru, the official said, “They can avail the concessional toll that has been notified. Those who do not want to use the main carriageway can use the service road.”
In some areas, railway tracks have come in the way of service roads. For example, near Nidaghatta, the NHAI did not build the service road over the railway track. Service road users have to take a U-turn and get onto the village road to reach the other end of the service road. When asked about not building service roads above the rail track, the official said, “There are no provisions under rules to build service roads above the rail track in this area. Who will pay the toll if we provide the service road all along the expressway?”
Demand for amenities
Motorists and villagers have also been demanding that the NHAI put safety measures and roadside amenities in place. Concerns have been raised over the lack of amenities like signage, skywalks across the road, and emergency medical facilities. There were reports that in the last six months, over 300 road accidents took place, and around 80 people lost their lives on the expressway.
Krishna G., who often travels between Bengaluru and Mysuru, said, “They have not completed the project. There are no washrooms or ambulances anywhere. We do not even see any patrolling staff at night.”
Superintendent of Police of Ramanagara district Karthik Reddy said, ”As a safety measure, motorists using the expressway should stick to the speed limit and follow the lane discipline. For pedestrian safety, we have asked the NHAI to install foot overbridges at several points such as Babusaplaya and Christ University.”
Project Director Mr. Sridhara said wayside amenities, including cafeterias, will come up. “We are acquiring 30 acres of land to provide resting areas and others. Regular patrolling of the expressway happens daily, and ambulances have been provided. Near the toll plaza, motorists can use the toilets.”
Officials also said pending work after Nidaghatta is likely to be completed by month-end or in 30 days. The Project Director said underpass work near Induvalu will be completed shortly. Based on the villagers’ demands, the NHAI is building additional underpasses in some areas. Once the entire main carriageway is opened, there will be an upward revision in toll.
Credit war among political parties
Since the Assembly elections are around the corner, the three major political parties have been claiming credit for the project once the inauguration date was fixed.
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said it was during the Congress regime that the then State highway was upgraded to a National Highway. He claimed that when Oscar Fernandes was the Road Transport and Highways Minister in the UPA government, based on the recommendation of the Congress government, the State approved the upgradation of the highway to a 10-lane road.
At every stage of the project, BJP MP from Mysuru Pratap Simha has been vocal. More than NHAI officials, he has been sharing updates like the phased opening of the expressway, the status of the under-construction stretches, and the deferment of toll collection. Visuals of the expressway shared by the MP have gone viral on social media on many occasions. The MP recently credited the project to the Narendra Modi government for taking all major decisions and executing it.
Amidst this tussle, JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said the project was initiated using the funds provided by the State government, and successive governments supported it, be it clearing land acquisition hurdles or clearance from the Forest Department. He said that during this tenure as the Chief Minister, he held nine meetings to expedite the project.
(With inputs from Jahnavi T.R.)