Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride. The tagline sums up well the Agra-Lucknow Expressway, the country’s longest access-controlled expressway that was inaugurated recently by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Connecting the two cities via Shikohabad, Firozabad, Mainpuri, Etawah, Auraiya, Kannauj, Kanpur Nagar, Unnao and Hardoi, it has given Uttar Pradesh reason to deny its laggard status as far as development is concerned. For, the Rs 13,200-crore, 302-km greenfield project was implemented by the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Authority (UPEIDA) in a record time of 22 months.
The six-lane expressway—expandable to eight lanes—will cut travel time between Agra and Lucknow to 3.5 hours from the current 7 hours, and between Lucknow and Delhi to 5.5 hours from the current 10-11 hours— with the Yamuna Expressway linking Agra to NCR. It would greatly reduce travel time on other corridors as well, with experts saying its multiplier effect on the state’s economy could be huge.
Abhaya Agarwal, head PPP projects in infrastructure, E&Y, says, “Getting India’s longest expressway built in two years is a signal achievement and will help create jobs, generate income, and boost the economy. The speedy implementation shows that if there is a political will anything can be done. Access-controlled expressways are the need of the hour, if we want to bring in urbanisation and transit efficiency. This expressway will now attract manufacturing, which will be key to growth.” It will have two farm mandis (markets), a logistics hub, an IT City and a residential town along its length.
The project was planned to be executed in PPP mode, but due to a lacklustre response, the state government took it up as an EPC project, funding it from the exchequer. The companies involved in the construction included Afcons, Larsen & Toubro, NCC, and PNC Infratech.
Significantly, the 7,500 acres of land needed for the project was acquired from nearly 30,000 farmers without any hurdles. “The reason behind the peaceful acquisition of land is that the state government paid farmers four times the circle rate as compensation and the acquisition process was transparent,” says Navneet Sehgal, CEO of UPEIDA.
Among the features of the expressway are an eight-lane bridge across river Ganga that will connect Kanpur and Unnao, 4 rail overbridges, 13 major bridges, 57 minor bridges, 74 vehicular underpasses, 148 pedestrian underpasses and 9 flyovers. It has a design speed of up to 120 km per hour and will have automatic traffic management systems aimed at reducing road accidents.
“Structures and bridges take a long time to come up. To fast-track construction, for the first time in India, we pre-cast eight-lane bridges and they were lifted and fixed atop pillars which were simultaneously being built on the river bed,” says Sehgal.
Alok Ranjan, former chief secretary and now advisor to the Chief Minister, says, “The expressway will link entire central UP to various industrial centres as well as to Delhi at one end and Lucknow on the other. It will allow farmers, vegetable growers and dairy owners to sell their produce in Delhi and beyond. India is losing agri produce worth Rs 1 trillion annually, of which 30% is lost in UP because of the lack of logistic lines, cold chains and warehouses. But now that wastage will be plugged significantly. Even if half of the wastage is plugged, it will boost the GDP” .
Keeping in mind the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway’s plan of using some highways as runways for aircraft landing and take-off, a 3-km emergency landing strip has been built near Agra for military planes—six IAF jets landing on it on inauguration day.
However, the expressway is still not ready for use by commuters. Construction of service lanes, putting up of signages, construction of gas stations and resting places, landscaping are among the works that remain incomplete. “Work on one railway overbridge (RoB) near Mainpur is on and the Ganga bridge too is seeing round-the-clock work. An interchange that links the Yamuna Expressway to Agra-Lucknow Expressway has been completed on one side only and on some stretches, the roadsides are yet to be paved. We hope to throw open the expressway to the public by the end of December,” says an official on condition of anonymity.