Beyond the mandate

Print edition : February 24, 2006

A stretch of the Ratanpur-Himatnagar section of National Highway 8. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The National Highways Authority of India goes all out to ensure that the National Highways are of international standards with modern facilities.

THE next time you enjoy a drive on one of the smooth stretches of the national highways do spare a thought for all the efforts that have gone into not just constructing it but maintaining it as well. If you think a bit deeper, you would realise that every object in the highways has been put in place with a purpose - even those things that you feel are just ornamental in nature could actually be serving a much more utilitarian purpose - be it shining signboards, yellow-painted median railings or even plantations in between roads.

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), apart from constructing highways, which it is mandated to do, spends considerable resources to ensure that they match international standards. It does so through comprehensive operation and maintenance contracts, which include routine and periodic maintenance, engineering improvement, asset management and provision of user services such as routine patrol, ambulances and tow-away vehicles.

Safety considerations start right from the initial days of the project, which include designing the road, with provisions for flyovers, grade separators, bypasses, railway over- and under-bridges, bus and truck lay-byes. In order to make road travel safer and easier for commuters, provisions for overhead signs, cautionary signboards, crash barriers, traffic lights and delineators are made in the detailed project reports.

Various steps are taken to ensure safety of road users and the workers engaged in road construction. According to an official of the NHAI, provisions are made for advance traffic warning, retro-reflective signs, reflective lights at hazardous locations, red flag strips on the construction machinery, flag-men for diversion, and so on.

Devices such as safety fences, traffic cones and diversions are used to ensure commuter-safety; for the safety of people working on construction projects, devices such as reflective jackets and helmets are provided. To ensure that roads are well maintained, the NHAI also enters into several long- and short-term operation and maintenance contracts.

Once a road is constructed, road safety measures, including thermoplastic line markings on carriageways, crash barriers, delineators, railings at the central median are put in place. Thermosplastic line markings such as centreline, edge line, shoulder line and zebra crossing are provided to guide traffic, especially during the night and in foggy weather. To provide guidance to road users that could be informatory, cautionary or mandatory in nature, reflective signboards are used. One major problem faced by highway commuters is pedestrians and cyclists crossing the roads. To address this problem, railings are installed on the central median line.

Shrubs and trees are planted in the median area to reduce the glare of vehicles' light coming from opposite direction.

While a lot is done to prevent accidents and ensure that commuters do not face any inconvenience, nothing comes with a foolproof guarantee of safety. Hence, several steps are taken to ensure that in case of accidents, victims are treated as soon as possible. "A well-equipped ambulance with requisite paramedical staff at every 50 km of a completed stretch is deployed to provide first aid to accident victims and to take them to the nearest trauma care centre or hospital. The ambulances are equipped with first-aid boxes, medicines, oxygen cylinders, bed sheets, pillows and stretchers," said an NHAI official. Arrangements are also made to clear damaged or stranded vehicles so that traffic on the road remains unhindered. "Tow-away vehicles are available for all the completed stretches to wing away the vehicles that have had a breakdown or have been damaged so that they do not cause any safety hazard to the road users," said the official. Patrol vehicles assist in emergency situations such as accidents and vehicle breakdowns.

The patrol vehicles provide highway users with basic mechanical help when there is a vehicle breakdown, identify traffic hazards such as unauthorised parking, public transport vehicles obstructing traffic during passenger loading and unloading, debris and stray animals.

"In order to make road journey safer, comfortable and convenient and to reduce fatigue in long distance driving, the NHAI is working towards developing comprehensive wayside amenities for use such as fuel stations, refreshment, rest and relaxation centres, separate places for parking cars, buses and trucks, workshops for repair of vehicles, telephones and small shopping centres. On the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway, two sites have been given to Reliance on lease to develop wayside amenities.

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