New expressways are govt's preferred option

With rising cost of land acquisition and rehabilitation of displaced people near existing national highways, the Centre is shifting focus to new projects instead of expansion of old ones.

Experts are of the opinion new highways can be constructed in less time that what is required to expand old ones.

“Cost of acquiring land around existing highways has gone up. Also, moving out those who provide roadside amenities is an expensive affair,” said a road ministry official. This is because the value of land near a highway grows exponentially.

Besides, expansion of existing highways invariably leads to traffic bottlenecks. Such problems are non-existent for new highways.

In fact, though new projects naturally require more land — at least five times more — than expansion of old ones, the cost incurred for the former (about Rs 13 crore per km) is less than the cumulative expenses for the latter.

“It makes sense for the government to go in for greenfield expressways,” said Adil Zaidi, partner, economic development and infrastructure advisory, EY.

At the same time, a new road provides stimulus to more economic activity in terms of wayside amenities, tourism, and other business activities, he added.

Estimates suggest land acquisition costs comprise around 50 per cent of the total cost of the expressway project. A new highway or expressway can be completed within a stipulated timeframe whereas for an expansion contract, there is no fixed timeline as the construction can get hampered due to a number of reasons.

Experts say the Agra-Lucknow expressway is the right example of a greenfield expressway on a tight schedule of 36 months, while the Delhi-Meerut highway completion has missed several deadlines.

At present, there are only a clutch of expressways in the country, including the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The government has prepared a blueprint of expressways stretching over 18,000 km, including the New Delhi to Katra (Jammu & Kashmir) expressway, which would also reduce travel time to Amritsar by about two-and-a-half hours.

The Delhi-Amritsar-Katra expressway would be executed on an alignment cutting across Jind in Haryana and connecting Amritsar via Barnala in Punjab. The project — that would come up at a cost of Rs 60,000 crore — would reduce the distance between Delhi and Katra by 110 km. The distance from Delhi to Katra via National Highway 1 is 729 km.

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