National Highway works in Kerala finally on track

Works to the tune of ₹56,910.86 crore spread over 589 km at various stages of implementation; works under another NH package worth ₹67,310.67 crore for 880 km awarded or are set to be awarded by March end. State has handed over ₹5,580 crore as 25% share for land acquisition expense for NH-66

Published - February 03, 2023 08:12 am IST - KOCHI

About 20% of the widening work has been completed on the three
major stretches of the National Highway-66 in Kozhikode district.

About 20% of the widening work has been completed on the three major stretches of the National Highway-66 in Kozhikode district. | Photo Credit: K. Ragesh

The nearly two-decades of stalemate in national highway (NH) development in Kerala is set to be over with a slew of projects by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) worth ₹56,910.86 crore at different stages of implementation.

The list of 21 projects covers a distance of 589 km across the State, while works under another NH package worth ₹67,310.67 crore for 880 km has been awarded or are set to be awarded by March end, thanks mainly to the State government agreeing to bear 25% of the cost of land acquisition for NH-66. The NHAI is also taking up ₹2,336.51-crore port connectivity projects. In all, 39 national highway corridors spread over 1,924 km and estimated at ₹1,34,729 crore, are being taken up by the NHAI, including 205 km already completed.

NHAI officials said impending highway projects can be fast-tracked, as was done for the Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod NH-66 (which is set to be developed by mid-2025), if the State government contributed a part of the land-acquisition cost. “The compensation per hectare was as high as ₹100 crore in densely built-up town areas, especially in the southern districts.”

New highways

Even as there is demand for more compensation and change in alignment in some corridors, the NHAI and the State government expressed hope that the target of approximately 30 months that has been set for each of these projects is achievable. The NHAI owns 1,184 km of the 1,732 km NH corridors in Kerala. The agency has also been mandated with constructing a four-lane greenfield highway running east of MC Road. The 623-km, ₹6,500 crore Coastal Highway to be built by the Kerala Road Fund Board (KRFB) will be yet another key infra project that is expected to decongest and usher in development of the coastal areas.

Apart from considerably decongesting highways, these projects are expected to reduce accidents, including head-on collisions that abound on these notoriously narrow roads that pass off as NHs in the relatively small State where approximately 1.50 crore vehicles jostle for space. They would also augment connectivity to ports within Kerala and from there to ports in nearby States, while also enabling establishment of multi-modal logistics parks like the one envisaged in approximately 100 acres in Kochi.

A new chapter, says Minister

Emphasising the need for developing basic infrastructure like roads for the State’s development, Minister for Public Works P.A. Mohamed Riyas spoke of how the development of NH-66, the most crucial of highways that begins from Thiruvananthapuram, passed through nine districts and exited the State through Kasaragod, had once been ‘given up’. “The previous Left Democratic front government invigorated it and set it back on track by bearing 25% of the land-acquisition cost, of which Kerala has already handed over ₹5,580 crore.”

“This is a new chapter in the history of NH development in Kerala. The NH-66 can be fully developed by 2025, for which the State government has assured the NHAI all help. Review meetings are being held at frequent intervals, apart from site visits when required. The State government will continue to work in tandem with the agency, to realise the development of more NH corridors,” Mr. Riyas said.

Trumpet flyovers

With over 1 lakh passenger car units (PCUs) criss-crossing many junctions on the NH-66, trumpet-type flyovers are likely to be considered in the place of conventional ones, it is learnt. This would in turn make them signal-free, helping in safe and seamless movement of vehicles in all directions. The NHAI is understood to be considering this option, having learnt a bitter lesson from the conventional flyovers built by the PWD (NH wing) in 2021 at Vyttila — said to be the busiest junction in Kerala — and at Kundannur, located 3 km south of it, on the Edappally-Aroor NH-66 Bypass in Kochi. Traffic snarls and confusion are the norm at the two junctions, despite the six-lane flyovers.

A clover-leaf flyover that was considered at Cheranalloor in Kochi was dropped and the authorities opted for a conventional flyover, faced with intense opposition to land acquisition. With this, a model whereby only land beneath the viaduct would be acquired — permitting landowners to continue to own land located in between the structure — might be tried out in select locales, it is learnt.

Elevated NH, bypasses

Elevated NHs would come up in some areas, like in the 13-km Aroor-Thuravur corridor in Alappuzha, to make up for inadequate width of the NH and hassles associated with acquiring land in densely built areas. Work has begun on the stretch, while a similar elevated NH is being considered on the 16-km Edappally-Aroor NH Bypass in Kochi. The Kollam and Alappuzha bypasses will be widened to six lane, to cater to the burgeoning traffic.

Lights

On its part, the NHAI would install high-mast and other lights that are 40 lux or brighter at all junctions as per the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) norms, official sources said. “The existing lights put up by local bodies on many NH stretches are far too inadequate and weak. In addition, reflective studs, reflectors, delineators, road markings and reflective sign boards will be readied, to enable safe night navigation, all as per the IRC standards. Solar-powered blinkers too will be set up.”

Eleven toll booths would come up across the State, once the works got over.

Raw material

NHAI sources said that they were encountering problems in sourcing mud and quarry stone, mostly due to regional-level opposition to quarrying, in many districts. High-level meetings are being held to sort out the issues, especially since the working season in Kerala is limited to the November-May period, when there is no or little rain, they added.

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