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Poor road conditions plague Golden Quadrilateral in Maharashtra; motorists raise safety concerns

Mumbai-Ahmedabad stretch of National Highway 48 is riddled with potholes.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Chennai-Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Delhi National Highway 48, part of the Golden Quadrilateral, is in a state of disrepair in Maharashtra, causing congestion, accidents, and breakdowns.

The highway is the only road linking Mumbai with Gujarat and beyond, and provides connectivity to Jawaharlal Nehru port in Navi Mumbai, one of the country’s largest ports. However, its poor condition is causing problems for motorists and logistics operators.

Despite the Supreme Court and Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari stating that toll should not be collected on poorly maintained highways, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) continues to collect toll on a 120-km stretch that is being concretised. NHAI officials acknowledge the safety concerns, but are unwilling to suspend toll collection until the project is completed in April 2025.

Work on the stretch between Achchhad on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border and Dahisar in Mumbai, part of the larger National Highway 48, has been under way since October 2023. Plagued by potholes, cracks, and waterlogging, it has toll posts at Khaniwade and Charoti in Maharashtra.

According to NHAI data, this section sees “very heavy traffic” of approximately 80,000 passenger car units (PCUs) at Khaniwade toll plaza, and increases to one lakh PCUs in Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation area, causing congestion during rush hours.

‘Faulty and accident-prone’

“The issues range from fatal road accidents to frequent vehicular breakdowns. Our repeated feedback to authorities has fallen on deaf ears. The design of bridges on this highway is faulty and accident-prone,” Harbans Singh Nanade, who provides rescue services to stranded passengers on this section, told The Hindu.

He pointed out that apart from potholes, the safety walls of bridges are not very high and that a vehicle could land on the road below in case of a mishap.

Former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and his friend Jehangir Pandole died in a car crash on a bridge on the Surya river, near Charoti, on this highway. The car they were travelling in had hit a divider. A forensic report commissioned by the Maharashtra police stated that the crash was due to the bridge’s “faulty design” and the occupants of the speeding car not wearing seatbelts. A few months later, the authorities installed crash cushions and safety signage at the accident spot.

NHAI documents mention that heavy vehicle breakdowns are very frequent during peak summer, causing lane blockages. The highway, which originally had three lanes on each side, has been reduced to two lanes due to construction, causing congestion and accidents. In the event of a breakdown, only one lane is left for traffic to pass, leading to further congestion and safety risks.

The newly laid cement-concrete road has deteriorated in just nine months, with long stretches marred by potholes, cracks, erosion, and waterlogging. This has raised concerns over the quality of construction.

‘Facing a nightmare’

Drivers are facing a nightmare, with speeds on the road reduced to 10-20 kmph in areas like Naigaon Phata, Sakawar, Khaniwade, Charoti, and Chinchoti, said Ram Kumar, a driver with a travel agency. “Lack of barricades where there is a difference in the road level between an asphalt road and the new concrete road is also raising grave safety concerns,” he said.

When the issues were brought to the notice of NHAI officials, they acknowledged the poor condition of the stretches, but failed to provide a reason for the subpar construction quality. “During monsoon, we will ask the contractors to patch up these areas. If required, they will be repaved post monsoon,” Suhas Chitnis, project director (Thane), NHAI, said.

As per official figures, the project is 37% ready and is scheduled to be completed by April 2025. Until then, the NHAI officials are reluctant to suspend toll collection. “The ongoing construction and charging of toll are different issues,” Mr. Chitnis said.

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