Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wide roads invite more wheels

Wide roads invite more wheels

If vehicles' number grows at current rate, roads will have to be widened every 5 yrs

Leo F Saldanha

Despite all the propaganda of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), we can stall the road-widening work under the Transfer of Development Right (TDR) scheme. All of us need to ensure that our councillors understand this — as they are obligated to — and make them stop the unnecessary and wasteful investment in road widening.
It is a disturbing development in Bangalore that roads are seen as mere conduits for the passage of vehicles. This has become a problem of perception as city administrators promote the view that the only way out of traffic congestion is to widen roads.
Statistics available with the RTOs (regional transport offices) reveal that 1,300 new vehicles are registered in Bangalore daily. At this rate, even if all the 100-odd roads in Bangalore, running to 450 km in length, are widened now, the exercise will have to be repeated in five years! If vehicle population increases at the current rate, widening of roads will then have to be done periodically. Clearly, this does not come across as an intelligent solution, does it?
Another idea is to have signal-free corridors in the city, by having a variety of grade separators at traffic junctions. Going by how civil work on some projects now underway is progressing — with terrible cost overruns and serious delays — it is clear that all traffic in Bangalore will come to a stop if work on grade separators is taken up.
This brings us to the current approach to relieve traffic congestion — almost entirely involving widening of roads. Officials state that the cost of widening a km stretch of road is approximately Rs8 crore to Rs10 crore (as per costs in 2008). Recently, Union surface transport minister Kamal Nath revealed that national highway expansion would cost Rs20 crore per km on an average (and
these are roads not running through cities, but in rural areas where land is far cheaper). The cost of widening Bangalore's roads has to be far more than Nath's estimates. But, even if we assume his estimates are applicable to Bangalore as well, widening 450 km of roads will cost Rs9,000 crore. And that is only for the civil work. What then of land acquisition?
Over the past few weeks, there has been frenetic activity in the BBMP to shower neighbourhoods with what is claimed to be 'TDR notices'. BBMP officials rush into houses and properties to throw a photocopied piece of paper through a gate or window. BBMP officials claim the notices are being issued to engage with the public and "convince" them to accept TDR.
The ESG (Environment Support Group) also got a notice recently, since the road on which its office is located is also being considered for widening. The notice had no name of the property owner, no description of the extent of land required for the widening.
Of late, notices include the names of property owners, areas of land needed for widening and providing an assessment of the value of the TDR. The guidance value used for this purpose is far below the actual market value of properties.
What is TDR? It means Transfer of Development Rights. In simple terms, it means that if one loses space for road widening, then in the remaining portion of the property, the BBMP grants the property owner permission to build an area up to 1.5 times the lost space.
In case one does not have the resources to restore sanity to a fractured property and reclaim lost space by building up in the remaining portion, then that space can be sold off to anyone else as Development Rights Certificate (DRC) at prevailing market rates. The problem is that there is no market whatsoever for DRC. An RTI application to the BBMP last year revealed that only 28 TDRs were applied for since the scheme was introduced in 2005.

(The author is coordinator, environment, social justice and governance initiatives, Environment Support Group)heavy price: The BBMP plans to widen 450 km of roads. This will cost the civic body about Rs9,000 crore


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