The construction work gained momentum after the demolition of the old Lalbaug Flyover in May 2009 and the work was completed in two years. — PRK Murthy
Erecting the segments was quite a time consuming process. One trailer could carry only one precast segment (as is mentioned earlier). Each segment was very heavy (17m by 2.5m) and that made it ODC (Odd Dimension Consignment). This means that it required special permission for transportation so as to avoid accidents and traffic jams. The Traffic Police allowed the transportation of these segments and erecting the superstructures in which they were to be fitted, only four hours at night. The vehicle carrying the segment would start from the Wadala yard – where they were precast – at 12 am and reach the site in about one hour. Then, the trailer would be positioned right under the launching crane which would pick up the segment. The trailer would then move ahead and the segment would be rolled in position. Then, the wait would begin for the next segment to arrive. Only two or three segments could thus be transported in one night. It took a tremendous amount of time to transport all the segments.
Emotions too played their game in the construction of the flyover as demolition preceded the process of construction. The first step in building the flyover was to dismantle the then existing, three-and-a-half decade old Lalbaug flyover (Sant Dnyaneshwar Bridge). People were emotionally attached to it as it was where they stood to watch the world famous ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’ at Ganapati festival every year. But a structural assessment showed that the 370m long and 8m wide two lane bridge was in a dilapidated condition. Remodeling it would not have proved economical in the long run. Using state-of-the-art machines like diamond saws and combi-crushers, it was demolished in record six days in May 2009. “Demolishing the entire bridge in the thickly populated area was not a simple thing. Moreover, the decision also led to re-working the GAD and re-designing the flyover in the affected stretch,” says Naik.
Contract and the hiccups
The Lalbaug flyover was built on a design and deliver contract which was awarded to Simplex. Simplex had its own arrangement and entrusted the job of designing to a consultant as a sub contract. The Project Management Consultant of MMRDA proof checked the designs.
There were problems galore in store for MMRDA after the opening of the flyover, and they occurred much sooner than expected. Within two days of the flyover having been opened, craters developed on the flyover, water clogging was seen and though commuters crossed the flyover in three-four minutes as was promised by MMRDA, they could not clear the further distance so easily.
The flyover, at any given point of time, had a long queue of cars on it as the road after the flyover could not accommodate so many cars at one time. The criticism of all these developments was so severe that the Chief Minister himself had to issue a statement. Murthy clarifies, “The only problem that happened after the inauguration was the occurrence of one single pothole of size 1ft x 1ft x 1inch! Unfortunately it got so much negative publicity that it was called a ‘crater’ by a newspaper! The pothole was repaired immediately, and independent experts committee was appointed to investigate. The Committee looked into all aspects and concluded that ‘the pavement was exposed to heavy downpour even before it was exposed to traffic movement’. In normal case, traffic movement over newly laid pavement makes sure the minute voids in the pavement structure are filled making it impervious. This period, of 15 days minimum, is called ‘work up period’. The pre-monsoon shower on the 16th of May and heavy rains from the 2nd to the 5th of July led to the absence of work up period for bituminous pavement. The Committee also recommended measures for prevention of potholes and the same are being implemented. Nevertheless, it may be noted that no pothole has occurred after the unfortunate first one, and traffic is plying smoothly since then.”
When contacted, Vivek Phansalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Mumbai said that such huge projects do lead to a few teething problems initially. “We will certainly be able to manage the obstacles very well. We are trying our best and such bottlenecks do take place because you cannot provide flyovers throughout the city. We will very soon provide solutions.” It seems a true promise. While MMRDA has lifted the debris on the side of the flyover, Barfiwala flyover has been thrown open in June itself for one side of the Lalbaug flyover’s arm to take care of the traffic inflow. Certain diversions have been put in practice by the traffic police for the other end. “We are going for solutions pointwise,” he says.
The reason for the traffic blockage at the place where Lalbaug flyover ends needs to be understood. Traffic from Eastern Expressway, Pune and Navi Mumbai and many other roads comes on to the flyover whose corridor goes up to CST Station and beyond. All these cars now reach the Khada Parsi junction 13 to 14 minutes earlier, and in a group. And from there, they move ahead. In short, traffic goes to many areas from where Lalbaug flyover ends. It just doesn’t end at the Lalbaug flyover. And beyond Lalbaug, there is a large portion of the North South corridor with many signals. This traffic gets stuck at the foot of the flyover. Earlier, people used to stop at nine signals. The average halt time for a signal is 30 to 40 seconds.
So, till all the sides of the signal complete their cycle which means till four or five cycles get over, the traffic from Lalbaug flyover waits its turn and every cycle increases the number of cars coming on to the flyover. But only a certain number of cars can be cleared at one go as the discharge rate remains as before. Even when they get cleared, more cars get added. That keeps adding to the number of cars on the flyover at any given time and it gives a feeling to the motorists that they are stuck in a traffic jam. So there is continuous blockage. If 25 cars are cleared in signal cycle, the hundredth car on the flyover will need four signal cycles to be cleared.
Would it have been avoided had the traffic police too been taken into confidence during the planning stage? It could have pointed out the obstacles a design could pose right in the beginning itself? Murthy says, “All concerned departments including the Traffic Police and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai were consulted while planning. In fact, it is only after their consent that the alignment and extent of flyover is finalised. There is an occasional long queue of vehicles during morning hours on south bound carriageway at Khada Parsi junction which is about 1km away from this flyover. It was so even before this flyover was opened, and has no relation with this flyover. Khada Parsi is a grade separated junction with flyover constructed by MCGM. Only one and a half lanes are available4 for the heavy traffic taking right turn towards Byculla, rendering the present arrangement inadequate at times. The problem has to be mitigated by better traffic management. MCGM must be looking into this.”
Experts say that since Khada Parsi junction exists between JJ and Lalbaug flyover, it is impossible to bring up one more flyover there. Given the number of vehicles and the number of roads meeting at the junction, very little can be done to ease the situation unless you really fly over it.
Says Phansalkar, “This is all a battle for road space, i.e. number of vehicles versus the road space available for travel. Having a flyover means you are actually creating another road on a road, so that much of the extra vehicles are accommodated. It is not possible to perhaps provide a complete flyover above the roads below and if a flyover is going to land on a road, then some problems will need very focused and well planned management measures.”
The emergence of one foot by one foot deep potholes right in the first week of opening forced the Chief Minister, who is the chairman of MMRDA, to order a probe. The probe gave a clean chit on the quality of bitumen used but reported that the bitumen was not allowed sufficient time (at least 20 days) to settle down as the flyover was thrown open to the public in haste. Hence, the Lalbaug flyover will be re-carpeted after the monsoon. Now, the flyover which has a 35mm surface thickness will have 40mm thickness after re-carpeting.
The state government has instructed MMRDA, the nodal agency, to set up its own control laboratory that could keep a check on the quality of building material being used in its projects. This laboratory will conduct its own tests on cement, aggregates, i.e. cement and mixtures, asphalt and building & road material. For this, all facilities will be built in-house.
It is important to note that the period from conception to execution of the project witnessed three political governments in Maharashtra over ten years. It took a decade for the project to fructify. But the relief commuters feel on using it now makes them say: “It was worth it.”