Govt finds road construction easier for new expressways

As cost of land acquisition and rehabilitation around existing national highways rises, the Union government is gradually shifting focus from expansion of highways to execution of green-field expressways. Experts believe the turnaround time for a new expressway is lesser than that of expansion of the existing highway, therefore, executing new projects is a better proposition.

“Cost of land acquisition around existing highways has gone up as well as shifting wayside amenities on the existing stretches is costlier keeping in mind the net present value, while a new alignment can come up at a lesser cost,” a senior Road Ministry official told Business Standard.

The cost of rehabilitation goes up on an existing highway project compared to a new alignment since the land value around existing road goes up. Besides, it is difficult to manage traffic related bottlenecks that occur on the existing highways, while for a new alignment there is no such issue.

At the same time, the land requirement for greenfield project is more than for existing projects. Typically, the land required for an expressway is at least five times more than what is needed for expansion of an existing highway. This is because an expressway is a 100 per cent access-controlled road with bridges and underpasses. Around Rs 13 crore per km of cost is incurred for constructing a highway.

“It makes sense for the government to go in for a greenfield expressway as the cost of land acquisition for RoW (Right of Way) for a highway expansion project would be higher than a new road contract,” Adil Zaidi, partner, economic development, and infrastructure advisory, EY said.

At the same time a new alignment gives rise to more economic activity alongside the road in terms of wayside amenities, tourism and other business activity, Zaidi added.

Another expert added that even though the cost of land acquisition for a greenfield expressway would be more than the cost of a brownfield highway project because of the volume of land required, the total cost of the project for the latter would still be higher than the former.

Estimates suggest land acquisitions costs constitute 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 may get hampered due to some existing traffic, rehabilitation of amenities etc.

Experts say that the Agra-Lucknow expressway is the right example of a greenfield expressway coming in a tight schedule of 36 months, while the Delhi-Meerut highway completion has skipped 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.