TECH TALK: Revolution on the Roads: Real Highways

Mumbai roads are improving slowly. But we still cannot seem to get road construction right we think of city road construction as an annual event. (Of course, everyone except the people who use the roads benefit from the annual-ness of the process politicians, bureaucrats and contractors have had a nexus around road construction for a long time.) The blame every year is on the severity of the rains which washes away much of the flimsy surface leaving a patchwork of roads and a liberal dose of potholes. A few years, the World Bank intervened and got many of the roads concretized. But for the most part, city roads across India leave a lot to be desired. I would have thought it should be easy to do it once and right, but perhaps it will still take us time to reach that level of integrity in the awarding of the contracts.

What surprised me was the quality of the road as soon as we left Mumbai. Right through to the outskirts of Surat, it is a delight. It is what I think of as a 100-kmph road: one could easily do 100+ kilometres per hour on the road for the most part. There are two lanes in each direction with a divider. There are no traffic lights. Busy junctions when passing small towns have been bypassed with flyovers or smaller side roads. The two lanes in each direction make overtaking easier and safer.

I think the Mumbai-Surat road is part of what in India is being called the Golden Quadrilateral project, an ambitious highway construction plan to connect five key cities. (Here is a map of the project.) That probably explains the proper maintenance, especially since that is part of the road which is the primary link between Mumbai and Delhi, Indias two most important cities.

Roads have been one of Indias biggest infrastructure bottlenecks since Independence. For some strange reason, we just forgot to construct a lot of new good roads. The present Congress government and the previous BJP government have now set about correcting this humungous error of judgment. We still have a long way to go, but at least there is now a recognition that India needs a good highway infrastructure. The quality of the roads has still plenty of room for improvement even the recently built Mumbai-Pune expressway has an increasing number of problem patches.

The good news is that the roads in India are improving. I had that feeling during my previous trip to Rajasthan and it was reinforced during this trip to Surat and back. I could actually read and think without being subjected to bumps along the route. There is a predictability in the travel from the outskirts of one city to the other. (The last mile problem still remains on my second trip, it took 3 hours to travel about 225 kms from Surat to the Mumbai suburbs, and then another 3 hours to cover the remaining 75 kms. That may have been an exception because that day the buses were on strike causing an unusually large number of cars and other vehicles to take to the roads.)

So, even as cars and roads improve, whats happening to the stopover points en route? Once again, I was pleasantly surprised.

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TECH TALK Revolution on the Roads+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.