The roads ministry is ready with a proposal for upgrading 22,000 km of national highways at an estimated cost of Rs 4 lakh crore over the next five years.
The road transport ministry will soon seek cabinet approval to lower the current traffic threshold for upgrading two-lane national highways to four-lane highways. The clearance is expected to come later this month.
As per the proposal, the specification for four-laning national highways is being reduced to 10,000 passenger car units (PCUs) per day in the plains, down from 15,000 PCUs. The daily traffic threshold in the reworked policy stands at 8,500 PCUs (earlier 11,000) in rolling plains and 6,000 PCUs (earlier 8,000) in hilly areas.
“The cabinet note is ready. There is a change in threshold, the traffic requirement has been brought down so that more national highways can be upgraded from two-lanes to four-lanes. The idea is to improve the quality of existing road infrastructure across the country, apart from accelerating development of new roads,” said a senior official in the ministry.
The 22,000 km to be taken up for upgradation account for over a fifth of the current NH network of 100,000 km. According to MoRTH data, 30 per cent of the existing national highways have less than two lanes, 48 per cent have two lanes and 22 per cent have four lane and more.
To put the figure in perspective, it is nearly half the 48,000 km of national highways upgraded in the last 15 years, since the previous NDA government under A B Vajpayee kicked off the national highway development programme in 1999.
The decision to rework the traffic requirements to facilitate upgradation of more national highways was taken at a high-level meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior officials of the Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways (MoRTH) a few weeks ago. Sources said Modi stressed that the focus should not only be on increasing the length of national highways but also on improving their quality.
“We debated whether we should just focus on quantity of roads being built or also look at improving existing stretches. It was decided that existing infrastructure should also be upgraded for enhanced traveller comfort and satisfaction. This would also enable better toll collection,” said the official.
The 22,000 km planned for upgrade are in addition to the 50,000 km that the roads ministry will add to the national highways network — this includes projects under the Bharat Mala programme, roads being considered for connecting district headquarters, backward areas and religious/ tourist centres, and state highways identified for addition to the NH network — by the end of the fiscal year.
“An estimated Rs 4,00,000 crore is required for upgrading 22,000 km of highways. The expenditure for adding 50,000 km of roads to the national highways network is additional. Generating resources on such a massive scale is a challenge. But we are looking at easing regulatory hurdles and putting policies and business models in place which would bring back the private investor,” said another official.
In the last six months, the roads ministry has approved an exit clause permitting highways developers to take 100 per cent equity out of a project two years after completion. It has also allowed NHAI to infuse resources in stalled projects and come up with a hybrid annuity model for road projects.
Recently, senior ministry officials held a meeting with investors from the US, UK and Singapore to discuss investment opportunities of $ 45 billion in NHDP programmes and to bid out toll roads on toll-operate-transfer (TOT) basis. TOT is expected to generate Rs 60,000-70,000 crore for the ministry.
The push for investments in the highways sectors this time is comparatively higher than in previous regimes. In the previous NDA government, 23,814 km was added to the NH network, while about 18,000 km was added during the two terms of the UPA government.