Enter the much-awaited state-of-the-art Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) from Palwal in Haryana and the experience leaves you distinctly underwhelmed. At first you will find all the trappings of a world class expressway — butter smooth road surface and a six-lane highway.
But drive on, and you are in for a rude shock. Piles of cables, unfinished slip roads, missing lamp posts and boulders strewn here and there greet you as you weave your way through. Given the EPE’s state of unreadiness, it is not hard to fathom why the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) cancelled its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 29.
The 135-km Eastern Peripheral Expressway, which connects Kundli to Palwal in Haryana via Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, is slated to be India’s smartest highway. Equipped with solar power lighting and intelligent highway traffic management systems and built at a cost of Rs 110 billion, the expressway will help decongest Delhi by diverting about 200,000 vehicles that enter the capital every day.
However, on the Palwal-Ghaziabad section of the highway, which is roughly half the project length, one encounters patches of unfinished work and slip roads connecting Noida and Greater Noida that are still under construction. Further on, one notices that lamp posts are yet to be installed. Again, while arrangements have been made for setting up the solar panels that are supposed to provide the power for lighting the entire highway, as of now only a few panels are in place.
Every few hundred metres, one finds incomplete cable work, heavy earth-moving equipment, and workers trying to finish the last leg of construction. Absent, too, are public amenities such as restrooms, rain shelters, drinking water fountains, petrol/compressed natural gas pumps, and restaurants.
When asked about the many things that are yet to be in place, a worker said, “It is hardly anything. It will be completed in 10-15 days.”
Compared to the Palwal-Ghaziabad section of the highway, the Ghaziabad-Kundli segment appears to be on point. The drive is smooth here, the lamp posts are in place and there is beautification and landscaping along its entire length — right up to the point where it merges with National Highway 1 on the GT Karnal road. However, you get an unpleasant surprise when you hit the toll facility at the Kundli entry point. It is as yet an under-construction hulk, though work is going on at a frenetic pace to complete it at the earliest. Little wonder that the PMO cancelled the inauguration of the project in April. It is learnt that the Prime Minister will not inaugurate the project until the civil and beautification work on the highway is fully complete.
Going the distance
The 135-km Eastern Peripheral Expressway project will connect Kundli to the north of Delhi on National Highway-1 with Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh
Once done, the project would reduce Delhi-bound traffic congestion by half
The aim is to have signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gautam Budh Nagar (Greater Noida), and Palwal
The Centre claims it is the country’s first infrastructure project where land acquisition cost is higher than the cost of project work, Rs 59 bn vs Rs 44.18 bn, respectively
The EPE is part of the 271-km Ring Road being constructed around Delhi to decongest the city. The other half of the project, the Western Peripheral Expressway (136 km), will connect Kundli to Palwal via Manesar.
The project is being executed by Sadbhav Engineering, Jaiprakash Associates, Ashoka Buildcon, Oriental Structure, and Gayatri Projects. Once it is fully operational, the expressway will boast world-class technology to detect overloaded vehicles at the entry points.
In 2016, the Delhi government had moved a plea in the Supreme Court to issue a directive for completing the two expressways in a time-bound manner. The EPE is almost there. Now it remains to be seen how much longer it takes for the project to complete its unfinished bits and unroll a highway that can vie with the best in the world.