“I started with an hour and half in hand from Guindy towards Central (a distance of 12 km), but still missed my train to Cochin. The cab was stuck at the flyover opposite the station for over 20 minutes. I hired a porter to carry the luggage and ran to the station in desperation. But given the steady flow of vehicles, it is tough to cross the road too,” says a frustrated Krithika Nair, a business consultant. Two years ago, she would have made it in comfortable time, if she had started from home just about 50 minutes prior to the departure of her train.
For many like Krithika, the extreme spike in traffic on this stretch has been the cause of many a misery. Vehicles move at snail’s pace these days on Poonamallee High Road and Mount Road leading up to the railway station. In fact, the traffic signal at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital is one of the worst traffic hotspots of Chennai; it takes at least fifteen minutes for vehicle users to cover a distance of half a kilometre (from Ripon building to Central Railway Station). Moreover, with this road providing connections to neighbouring districts, gridlocks are witnessed even during weekends and holidays.
There are actually various reasons that contribute to the congestion in and around Chennai Central, but one of the most important relates to the closure of the Elephant Gate Bridge.
A closed connection
Elephant Gate Bridge, that connects Basin Bridge Junction to the southern parts of the city such as Purusawakkam and Egmore, has been closed for four-wheelers for two years and restricted two-wheeler movement too, for four months now. The more-than-seven-decades-old dilapidated bridge has to be dismantled to construct a new one. The project involves work and coordination among various government departments such as Southern Railway and Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation; with the delay in its execution, vehicle users have no choice but to reach Chennai Central to go further south.
“By taking the Elephant Gate Bridge, I could reach Vepery from Basin Bridge in less than ten minutes. Now, we have to come via Chennai Central, a detour of 3 km and a total time of more than 25 minutes,” said P S Vaishnavi, a resident of North Chennai and a social worker. Those from the Basin Bridge have to go to Vepery to reach the commercial spots of the city such as Anna Nagar and Kilpauk.
| Project cost: Rs 30.32 crore
Length of the new bridge: 3 * 48 metres
Departments involved: Tamil Nadu Transmission Corporation (TANTRANSCO) and Southern Railway
TANTRANSCO’s role: TANTRANSCO has to remove the high voltage cables on the bridge after which the railways will initiate the demolition work.
Role of Railways: To block a few railway tracks between Basin Bridge and Chennai Central and also Basin Bridge and the Moore Market Complex railway station, to allow for demolition of the bridge. The lines have to be suspended for a span of 48 hours in two spells. Construction of a new bridge can start after this procedure.
Source: Southern Railway
Since the time that Elephant Gate Bridge became non-operational, many traders and labourers residing in Basin Bridge have had to face terrible traffic to reach Vannarpetai wholesale market. Even though the entry to Elephant Gate bridge is closed, one can still see cyclists and rickshaw pullers trying to squeeze in, through a narrow opening. “Every day, I bring groceries from the wholesale market. If not through this bridge, I will have to pull the rickshaw for an extra three kilometres,” said Perumal, a rickshaw puller.
What delays construction?
According to a press release from Southern Railway in December 2019, the demolition work should have started in January. However, the date has been postponed yet again. Attributing the delay to the complex construction procedure, a senior official from TANTRANSCO said, “We had to put in place high tension cables first and install new power lines in various localities, before removing the electricity cables on the bridge. Land acquisition also took a lot of time. The preparatory work will be completed in mid-February.”
Southern Railway officials say the work of demolition and reconstruction of a new bridge will begin this March. “Tenders are in progress. We expect it to be completed in ten months,” said Chief Administration Officer, Construction, Southern Railway, A K Sinha. Only time can tell if these government departments will keep their promise this time or miss the deadline, as always.
Needed: A flyover and a foot-over-bridge
In the past, Greater Chennai Corporation had widened the Poonamallee High Road and shifted the bus stop from the road to inside the Chennai Central railway station premises. There is also a pedestrian subway for the passengers from Park Town station to reach the station.
However, the sheer magnitude of vehicular traffic on the road has rendered these steps inadequate and ineffective. “Besides the railway station, the road also has the city’s biggest government hospital (Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital). With at least two to three ambulances plying on this road every hour, we cannot afford to keep it congested,” said M Radhakrishnan, founder of Thozhan, an organisation that focuses on educating citizens about road rules. Repeated calls and texts to the Additional Commissioner of Police, A Arun fetched no response.
Proposing solutions for the traffic hotspots, Thozhan has written to the City Traffic Police on more than one occasion. The steps they suggest are
- A Foot Over Bridge (FoB) for road users to get to the Central Railway Station: The existing pedestrian subway is widely used by the passengers of Park Town station; a lot of pedestrians cross randomly on the busy road, navigating the constant flow of vehicles. A foot over bridge and closure of median openings will regulate pedestrian traffic.
- A flyover connecting Ripon Building and the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital: This could be a permanent solution, especially because of the pace at which vehicular density is increasing here.