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Wednesday, 30 May 2018 | Kushan Mitra | NEW DELHI– Two days after the Eastern Peripheral Expressway, the first half of an ‘Outer-Outer’ Ring Road meant to bypass the national capital, was thrown open, it was time to give the road a shakedown drive. Turning onto the new road at Kundli, a few kilometres ahead of Delhi’s Singhu Border in the north of the city, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway sweeps eastward initially towards Meerut before heading southward towards Dadri through the heart of western Uttar Pradesh, behind Greater Noida, passing over the Taj Expressway until it eventually ends at Palwal, south of Faridabad. Eventually, the Western Peripheral Expressway that  passes through Haryana through the industrial hub of Manesar will connect to this road, creating an approximately 275-kilometre ring of six-eight lane highway that bypasses the national Capital. The Expressway(s) three decades in the making got a push from the Supreme Court when they banned older diesel vehicles from entering the capital during the winter of 2016 due to the heavy pollution in the city. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway built in a record 17 months has been in no small part pushed by Union Roadways Minister Nitin Gadkari. And at first glance, the road is superb. An excellent, albeit concrete surface, the road quality is on par with the best expressways in the world. A posted speed limit of 120 kilometres per hour for cars for the most part puts this stretch of Expressway on par with global high-speed roads which have the same speed limit. But there are some drawbacks. The first of course is that older vehicles and India’s lower-power smaller cars will find it difficult to keep up with the higher speed traffic. Unintentionally, the higher speed limits might actually drive sales of more modern vehicles as it sets a template for other such expressways in India such as the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway. But, there is another problem with the road, it is clearly not ready. Detractors of the Prime Minister will claim that he should not have inaugurated the road so soon and that the timing of the opening was due to the recent bypolls in the seat of Kairana in Western Uttar Pradesh. But the fact is that following a Public Interest Litigation, the Supreme Court had ordered that the road should be opened by May 31. There is much more to an Expressway than just the road surface, which it must be mentioned is complete the entire stretch. But the finishing work clearly is not. While on the initial stretch from Kundli till the Dasna exit is more or less complete with the exception of one carriageway on a bridge, work south of Dasna is relatively incomplete with huge gaps in the restraining guardrail and on some bridges. While the road is open to vehicular traffic, there are hundreds of workers on the road completing the job, with construction trucks and tractors blissfully parked on the fast lane. At the same time as the access-control toll gates are not ready, Indian drivers very happy to take a ‘short-cut’ are driving down the wrong side. This is not just a problem here but across Indian roads, including Delhi’s Barapullah elevated road. This is a danger and needs to be tackled immediately before there are major accidents on this road. Your writer drove in the middle of a clear day with over five kilometres of clear visibility, but a moments distraction, particularly in a time when people use mobile phones all the time can lead to tears for a few families. On the face of it, this is a fabulous bit of infrastructure, one of the best roads built in India ever. Period. But it might have made a bit of sense to have opened the road after it was fully complete, with all the toll gates and access control ready and preventing slower moving vehicles on the road. While the speed limit is a great step forward, there appeared to be no infrastructure for speed and vehicle monitoring installed on the road as yet. That has to be built pronto. Frankly, after waiting three decades, surely the country could have waited two-three more weeks for a fully complete Expressway.

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