Sanjiv Bajaj doesn’t particularly like driving down from Pune to Mumbai. But once the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) comes up in another three years, the managing director of Bajaj Finserv will bypass the entire Navi Mumbai stretch — from Panvel to Vashi — saving himself a good 60 minutes.
Driving across the 22-km sea bridge would allow Bajaj to spend more time at meetings in Nariman Point rather than on the road. Indeed much like the Eastern Freeway from Chembur to the Fort area, the Santacruz-Chembur link road and before that Bandra-Worli sea link, the MTHL will make life easier for everyone.
Already, the freeway has cut down the driving time from Vashi to town by more than half so living there is not such a bad idea. And with the MTHL, the other suburbs in Navi Mumbai — Nerul, Belapur, Kharghar, Kalamboli, Khandeshwar, Uran, Kamothe, Panvel and Ulwe — will also be an hour’s reach from the island city. Once the MTHL is ready, anyone driving down from Pune can get on to it after Panvel and drive on till Sewri. From there the eastern freeway will take him to the Fort area.
The MTHL project was first conceived way back in 2004 and the Maharashtra government, which recently opened bids, is keen to pull it off. It knows that the six-lane highway — from the sea front at Sewri to Chirle, connecting NH-4B —would improve infrastructure tremendously bringing in more business.
For those residing in distant suburbs in Navi Mumbai, driving to work is not an option. So, while Navi Mumbai has developed over the last two decades, the growth has remained restricted to areas closer to the business districts of south Mumbai and Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). The eastern freeway, which was thrown open three years ago has mostly benefitted areas like Vashi which is where Navi Mumbai begins. However, for areas beyond Vashi, connectivity with the city or business hubs remains a challenge.
The eastern freeway has ensured the drive from Vashi to Nariman Point is shorter than an hour during off peak hours; in the past it could take even 2 hours. That’s because the traffic has been distributed between the freeway and the old route via Sion. But Brigadier Ravish Vashisht, a retired army officer and a resident of Nerul, an area further north of Vashi in Navi Mumbai, is looking forward to MTHL so that he can meet up more often with his friends for a drink at the Radio Club in Colaba.” There was a time one had to make a detour of about 20 kilometres through Thane (in the northeast of Mumbai) to get to the city. But maybe in three years we will frequent frequent Colaba more often,” he says.
Estimates put out by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in 2013 pegged the one-way toll rates for the MTHL anywhere between R175 and R220 for passenger cars and R800 for heavy vehicles. However, the project cost has almost doubled since then and is now a staggering R17,500 crore. Depite the escalation, senior MMRDA officials say the toll rates are unlikely to change much from these levels as the project is now coming up in the EPC mode rather than via the BOT model.
Also Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has approved a soft loan for the project.
Industry watchers point out the convenience of the MTHL will outweigh the seemingly high toll tariffs. Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director, Deloitte, says although MTHL may be expensive it will be viable given the better connectivity to the upcoming Navi Mumbai airport as well as residents there.” Since it is an EPC project, the private sector is not exposed to the risk of traffic and toll collection. The government may not collect toll initially but may charge more later. Or they may stagger the collection charging different rates for different periods,” says Udgirkar.
According to 2011 census the population of Navi Mumbai has grown by 57% to 1.1 million from 0.7 million in 2001. Residential and commercial real estate projects, schools, IT Parks or business centres, hotels and retail have mushroomed here necessitating better connectivity with the main city. By the 2013 estimates, MTHL was expected to carry more than 62,000 passenger car units in the year 2019; the annual growth envisaged is about 5%. Besides decongesting the island city of Mumbai, the Rs 17,500 crore link will provide connectivity to both Mumbai Port and Jawaharlal Nehru Port and of course the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport. Moreover, it will not only provide connectivity to commuters travelling towards Thane-Nashik, Navi Mumbai, Panvel-Pune but further to southern India as well. The sea bridge is also expected to boost the economical growth of the whole of Raigad District and its surrounding areas.