For the past five years, parts of Mumbai’s western arterial road have been under major reconstruction as part of the 29.2-kilometre Coastal Road Project (CRP). While Mumbaikars are aware that increasing traffic requires unclogging of its arteries, they are also suffering as a result of the modernisation and expansion work, which has brought with it dust and noise that have added to unprecedented overall pollution levels for an extended period of time. At the ground level it appears there is a long way to go before the city witnesses a clean, new look.
But now, an exhibition of pictures of the project, giving an idea of what to expect, the enormity of the CRP, and more importantly, an assurance to city loyalists and sceptics that Mumbai will indeed come out looking better, is on at the Dilip Piramal Art Gallery in the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA).
Titled “Coastal Road Odyssey”, the exhibition, which is on until May 21, curates 50 unique, never-seen-before photographs, showing via stunning aerial shots how the city is undergoing a major transformation.
Photographed by a team from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the government agency responsible for building the road, the drone pictures and a few conceptual illustrations are an eye-opener.
The blown-up photographs show the entire length of the first phase of the estimated Rs.12,000-crore CRP built so far. A massive three-dimensional model of the project greets visitors as they entire the gallery. Complete with tiny cars, trees, and people, it certainly provides perspective to what currently seems a never-ending construction process.
Aerial photographs of the criss-crossing intersections at Breach Candy, Haji Ali, and Worli are of particular interest as they provide clarity on the entry and exit points of the road.
The photographers have also included drilling and tunnelling work in the selection. “It was an incredible moment for us when the biggest tunnel boring machine used in India came out in daylight in January 2023. We had to add that to the collection,” said Samir Bairagi, a BMC engineer, while taking viewers on a walk-through.
According to BMC officials at the venue, almost 70 per cent of the work has been completed. Yet, while they had set November 2023 as the deadline to open the first phase, which is the stretch between Marine Drive and the Bandra-Worli sea link, the COVID-19 lockdown came a setback and they officials now estimate that the road will be ready by mid-2024.
If the photographs are significant in understanding the project, it is a short video similar to a simulated car game that gives viewers a digital experience on what it will be like to drive on the coastal road. The viewer is taken through tunnels, hills, sea faces to eventually reach the iconic Bandra Worli sea link bridge.
Series on infrastructure projects
The exhibition is the second part of a three-part programme showcasing Mumbai’s infrastructure projects. The Mumbai Metro was the first and the Mumbai Trans-harbour Link will be the third.
A write-up at the shows says: “Many Mumbaikars are unaware of the actual nature of work being carried out or the innovation and technological challenges of the projects. The exhibitions will showcase the behind-the-scenes journey of this infrastructural undertaking that will change the transportation dynamics of the city and the quality of life of the citizens of Mumbai.”
Specifically on the coastal road, the exhibition says: “With a 10.58-km expanse of roadway on reclamation, bridges, interchanges, tunnels under the sea as well as a hill, a seawall, and more, this project aims to achieve the commendable feat of reducing the travel time from south Mumbai to north Mumbai by 70 per cent.”
When the CRP began in 2018, there was a significant amount of opposition from environment and civic bodies asking whether it was necessary to put the city through this project. Questions were raised on how the project would navigate coastal regulation zone (CRZ) rules, which were created to protect the environment. Urban planners suggested expanding into the mainland towards the north instead of adding more concrete on an already densely developed and populated city.
The State government was determined to go through with the project and in October 2018, the first drilling site began at Breach Candy’s Amarson’s Garden.
What the project will achieve
At the exhibition, a large write-up provides a fair amount of data on the project. With regard to why it is being built, the BMC says: “As one of the densest mega-cities of the world, Mumbai is constrained not only by its limited landmass and high population, but also by its peculiar geography and historical development.”
According to the corporation, since Mumbai is narrow and surrounded by sea on three sides, there is little scope for large-scale development works within the city or for road widening beyond a point. Additionally, the city is saucer-shaped, leading to chronic flooding in low-lying areas. Therefore, the best option is to reclaim land along the western side and essentially develop on the existing infrastructure.
As to what the coastal road will achieve it says the main thrust is to improve connectivity and reduce travel time. For instance, it has calculated the average speed on the coastal road will be 80 km an hour as opposed to 20 km an hour now. This should reduce the travel time between Worli and Marine Drive from 30 minutes to eight minutes.
The project is also expected to improve the air quality by landscaping 70 hectares of land along the road. The green spaces will include recreational facilities and civic amenities such as parking. Furthermore, the road’s maintenance will create employment opportunities.
Describing the technology and engineering behind the project, the BMC says that the CRP incorporates multiple complexities in a single project. This includes roads on reclaimed land, bridges, flyover style interchanges, tunnels under the sea and hills, and the creation of green spaces around these complexities.
Additionally, India’s largest tunnel boring machine, with a diameter of 12.19 metres, is being used to bore the CRP tunnels. And for the first time in the country, bridges are being constructed on monopile foundations—a type of construction process that is faster and will reduce disturbance to the seabed ecology.
The project estimates that the average passenger car units will be 35,000 in each direction per day. The CRP will be a toll-free road.
Impact on environment
An entire section in the BMC’s information chart is dedicated to the environmental aspect of the CRP. According to it, the project incorporates numerous studies, permissions, environment protection measures, and compliances with regard to the environment.
For instance, Rs.175.76 crore has been deposited with the Mangrove Foundation of the Forest Department. Experts from the National Oceanography Institute advised the project on how to conserve the aquatic ecosystem. Natural rocks are being used instead of concrete tetrapods in an effort to allow sea life affect to adapt; and 12-foot-high barriers will be installed in residential areas along the CRP to reduce traffic noise. BMC engineers said that there will be constant environment and pollution monitoring after the project is opened.