Infrastructure
Big infrastructure projects unlock big funds for the state government. But are they really adding value to civic life?

As Bengaluru’s traffic woes burgeon, the Karnataka government’s most recent solution to the problem is the decision to build yet another elevated road in the city, this time one of the longest in Asia, a 6.7 km long steel flyover from Hebbal to Chalukya circle.

But even a brief look at studies of traffic in Bengaluru, such as the ‘Volume-Capacity Study on Flyovers of Bengaluru’, shows that vehicle density on the roads has increased by 8%-10% and traffic speeds have dropped by between 5-20 km per hour between 2015 and 2016.

What’s more, the study found that not only are the existing flyovers overburdened, but they haven’t been able to solve the congestion problem either.

Overall strategy is missing

How practicable is it then to build another flyover?

Not at all, says Ashwin Mahesh, former advisor to the Karnataka government on urban affairs.

“You need to have an overarching strategy for the city with an eye on the larger scheme of things. You have to see whether a project fits that strategy and only then can you judge its value. But that’s not being done,” says Mahesh.

Mahesh recalls that the government had set up a committee last year to come up with strategies for decongesting roads. The report submitted by the committee, however, has been gathering dust for about 18 months now.

“Even if the government has a ‘bigger plan’ it is in no shape to implement it,” argues Mahesh. “You need a lot of things for that – fast construction technology, necessary skill and political will to name a few. You need expertise of people who understand urban design and mobility, who can map vehicular movement. You can’t expect outcomes without providing the necessary inputs.”

It's all about location

Traffic expert MN Sreehari says that while flyovers are necessary to ensure seamless movement of traffic, their placement is key – something which is lacking in most of Bengaluru’s in-city flyovers.

“The flyovers in the city complicate traffic, create bottlenecks and do not really help with the congestion. They also end up just pushing the traffic onto the next junction,” says Sreehari. “Flyovers are better suited for outskirts and ring roads,” he adds.

Mahesh agrees and adds that areas like Silk Board and Marathahalli could do with flyovers. Further, Sreehari adds that flyovers, when unmonitored, become hotspots for illegal activities.

“You will often find abandoned cars under these flyovers. They (flyovers) create dark spots which no one looks at, apart from just looking ugly in the middle of the city,” he says.

Both experts concur that many of the flyovers inside the city are unrequired and that the need of the hour is to enhance mass transport and to build a network of arterial (major) roads to comprehensively tackle the city’s traffic woes.

“There need to be two kinds of networks – neighbourhood roads for local mobility and arterial roads for longer distances. When a person knows that the latter is the easier way for long commutes, they will automatically take it and would not have to be compelled to,” says Mahesh.

Flyovers bring funds

Sreehari explains that the government’s obsession with flyovers, regardless of their practicability could also have to do with the fact that these are high-budget projects, allowing the government to access major funds.

“What is the need to build a steel flyover? A concrete flyover is more practical, it’s cheaper and requires less maintenance,” challenges Sreehari. “The more money they (state government) get for these projects, the more kickbacks they can get,” he adds.

Mahesh says that while the flyover is an individual project outside the bigger scheme, what makes it worse is that no questions are asked before commissioning it.

“The ironic thing is, you would not find anyone saying that it is a good project. Because as soon as you say that, people will start asking why; and the government won’t really have the answers. So they tend to say it’s ‘necessary’,” he says.

While infrastructure projects are popular with any government, says Mahesh, one also needs to question whether they are adding any value to the civic life.

“People often say that let the government make money as long as they are doing the right thing. But that never happens. Triple the bus fleet in the city and roads will automatically clear. But there’s no money in it, so it doesn’t happen,” he says.