Chennai has waited for more than a decade for the completion of the Port-Maduravoyal Expressway project.
The infrastructure project was commissioned with a view to decongesting Chennai roads, particularly from traffic from containers that head to the city’s port. The funding agency for the Port-Maduravoyal Expressway project is the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) which is also responsible for its maintenance and management.
Disagreements between successive state governments have resulted in the project lying suspended for an inordinately long period. Over all these years, commuters have been driving past incomplete pillars where the elevated expressway should have been.
Shanavas Babu, who has owned an apparel factory near the project area since 2009, has been one of the many witnesses to the long delay of expressway construction. “It was challenging when pillar construction was underway, without proper roads, especially for two-wheeler commuters, making it a nightmare,” he says.
“As a regular commuter on this stretch of the road I had to put up with the pothole-ridden roads for years. We were risking our lives by choosing to ride a two-wheeler on this road which is known for its chaotic traffic,” says a commuter.
However, recent developments have provided hope that this key infrastructure project may finally see the light of day in the coming years.
Original timeline and halting of the project
The original plan for the project involved the construction of an elevated corridor connecting Chennai Port with Maduravoyal. The initial proposal was for the construction of a four-lane, single-tier expressway.
The project was sanctioned in June 2007 when the then state government under the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) gave approval to the NHAI. The project cost at that time was estimated at Rs 1,468 crore.
In January 2009, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, laid the foundation stone for the project. The project awaited environmental clearance, which was obtained in February 2011. During this time, the Chennai Port Trust handed over its share of the project, which was estimated at Rs 50 crore, to the NHAI.
But after the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was voted to power in the state in 2011, then Chief Minister J Jayalalitha opposed the project, stating that it would have an adverse impact on the environment and could result in flooding of residential areas on either side of the river during monsoons.
The project also faced various delays and cost escalations due to issues related to land acquisition, design modifications, and environmental concerns and was halted by the AIADMK government in March 2012.
The AIADMK government defended its decision to halt the project stating that 14 km of the 18.3 km of the elevated expressway was designed to run above the Cooum River. At this point, only 15% of the original project had been completed.
Resumption of the Port – Maduravoyal Expressway project
Years passed without any updates on the fate of the project and the incomplete pillars came to symbolise the paralysis surrounding it.
In 2016, the AIADMK government proposed a realignment of the project to reduce the impact on the Cooum River and the estuary near Napier Bridge. With these changes approved, the NHAI resumed the project.
The government signed a state support agreement (SSA) for the project in December 2016. The authorities put together a fresh detailed project report (DPR) and estimated that the project would now cost Rs 2,600 crore. With assistance from the Chennai Port Trust, the NHAI acquired around 14,000 sq.m of defence land near Napier Bridge for the realigned project.
Work on the project was halted multiple times since the 2016 redesign, with short periods of construction and long pauses.
In 2020, the AIADMK government once again requested a redesign of the project, with additional ramps in order to service more vehicles. The Central government agreed to these demands, converting the original design into a double-tier expressway.
All previous tenders were scrapped and fresh tenders were to be issued for the redesigned project. However, the onset of the pandemic brought all plans to redesign and revive the construction to a halt.
Present status of the Port – Maduravoyal Expressway project
After the pandemic passed, the present DMK government and the NHAI began work to revive the project.
In July 2022, tenders were called for the construction of the double-tier four-lane elevated expressway on Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) mode under the Bharatmala Pariyojana. This is a new umbrella programme started in 2017 under the administrative control of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH).
The fresh cost for the project, according to MoRTH, stands at Rs 5,800 crore. The fresh timeline for its completion is December 2024.
The construction contract has since been awarded to J Kumar Infraprojects Limited (JKIL), a Maharashtra-based company.
“As a next step, the contractor should give performance security and sign the agreement. The agreement is yet to be signed by the contractor. The work was expected to resume in September but has now been pushed to October because of this,” says S. Janakumaran, Deputy General Manager and Project Director, NHAI.
Gains from Port – Maduravoyal Expressway project completion
The incomplete pillars which have come to mark the project have also been a decades-long obstruction to the very same commuters it was supposed to aid.
If the work is completed it will not only ease the traffic congestion but also provide much-needed relief to the residents and commuters. Crossing the busy road during the peak hours has been a challenge in the area, according to the commuters.
“Beyond the numerous pillars, the obstruction also seems to be at the start of the construction in Maduravoyal, with similar barriers near Koyambedu and multiple pillars between MGR University and Shell Bunk”, says Babu.
Large trucks and containers are only allowed to enter within city limits between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. to minimise traffic congestion. The elevated expressway’s completion would resolve this issue, allowing trucks and containers an exclusive route to the port at any time of the day, without disrupting commuter traffic in the city.
Those who live along the path of the project also hope that the completion of the project may boost real estate markets in several areas in Chennai.
The project will also increase the handling capacity of Chennai Port by 48% and reduce the waiting time at the port by six hours.
With the NHAI moving to restart the much-delayed project, Chennaites may just see an end to traffic congestion in the project area and finally see the completion of one of the most delayed infrastructure projects in the city.
“Now, hopefully, construction may resume. I can’t help but worry about the impending return of our hardships. I often ponder the amount of time I’ve spent on these roads due to various construction projects, all in the hope of better days ahead,” says Babu.