Government may not expand old national highways, but build new ones

In a change of track, the government is keen to build more greenfield national highways with straight alignment rather than expanding the existing corridors. Expansion of highway stretches often get delayed, particularly when these pass through habitations and commercial areas where land acquisition or removal of encroachments is tough.

The road transport ministry, in a circular issued to highway owning agencies, has said identifying a new stretch at a distance from an existing corridor would be a better solution and could be built at almost the same cost of expansion. The ministry has advised all agencies to ask consultants preparing detailed project reports (DPRs) to examine the feasibility of developing greenfield highways.

There have been dozens of examples of delayed highway projects such as Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Agra corridors, which pass through densely populated towns. The ministry has highlighted how acquiring land in such stretches was not only expensive but also cumbersome. It got further complicated when houses and religious structures came in the way.

“Existing roads were developed with greater focus on connecting en route towns and places, which was often seen to be compromising on road geometry and leading to longer distances between major origin-destination points. The focus is to have crowflight alignment that are shorter and can help push economic activities in backward regions,” road transport secretary Y S Malik told TOI.

The ministry has argued that land situated along/abutting an existing road cost at least twice as much as land elsewhere. According to the ministry, putting together all costs involved in expansion of highways, including expenses on land acquisition, building safe passages for vehicle and pedestrians, tree cutting and compensatory afforestation may come close to building a new highway.

Moreover, construction of such “near-perfect road geometry” will reduce distance and will also cut travel time and fuel costs. Acquisition of land for such development will also be faster because of minimal resistance. “Land cost is also less in comparison to the price that we pay for acquisition in areas falling close to cities and towns,” a ministry official said.

New corridors will also open up the potential for development of new areas and wealth creation for less developed areas.