Sunday, March 23, 2014

Two crucial steps for the NH-66 expansion

Many of us would find it hard to believe that the expansion of the NH-66, formerly the NH-47, the single most important highway in Kerala has been ongoing since 1974. That's before a lot of us were even born! The stretch of the NH-66 between Kazhakkoottam and Karode, on the Tamilnadu border was built two decades ago and land had been acquired 15 years ago for widening it to 4-lanes for the first 23 Km from Kazhakkoottam to Mukkola.

Thereafter it got stuck with successive State Governments, MLAs and MPs showing scant interest in proceeding with the 4-laning project. Successive tenders to widen it on a BOT basis failed because of shoddy traffic surveys which failed to paint an accurate picture of the traffic potential of the stretch and because land acquisition had not been completed along half of the stretch. Kerala, after all, has the worst record in India with respect to vehement opposition to the land acquisition needed for widening highways.

It's only been since Dr. Shashi Tharoor took over as MP of Trivandrum that any progress has been made. Recognizing the problem with land availability, or rather the lack of it, in the second part of the stretch, he got NHAI to split the Rs 1,170 Crore project into two parts and prompted them to get the 23 Km long stretch till Mukkola (near the site of the Vizhinjam deep water port) tendered first while constantly following up to ensure that the land acquisition process for the remaining stretch made it through the multiple stages mandated by the State and Central Governments.

NHAI recently completed the qualification process for the first stage, with five companies-consortia becoming eligible to bid and the project is now in its final bid stage, with offers due on April 21st. Simultaneously, after a lot of drama, NHAI has approved the release of the first tranche of compensation to land owners in the second phase signalling the beginning of the last phase of work before tendering on this phase can also begin, hopefully before the end of 2014.

Not to stress an obvious fact once more but the NH-66 between Kazhakkoottam and the Tamilnadu border is the single most economically important stretch of road in Kerala as it connects the three Phases of Technopark, Technocity, VSSC, the International Airport, the Kochuveli rail hub, Travancore Titanium Products and a host of small, medium and large manufacturers, the Kovalam-Poovar tourism belt (Kerala's single largest) and of course, the Vizhinjam deep water port project. Nearly a 100,000 people work along the road already and that will go up to 200,000 by 2017. Over Rs 10,000 Crore is being invested into physical and social infrastructure along the stretch. Thus the importance of getting this road developed cannot be over emphasized.

Fingers crossed!

1 comment:

  1. Its sad to see that there in no flyovers or grade separators in this stretch till Kovalam Jn...


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