While we need more roads in India, there are several issues that we need to resolve, including improving old and existing roads, widening them and adding services along with the roads. As I mentioned in my previous article
, we need to bring in practical perspective to the road infrastructure. However, what we need is a system—not simply individual projects. The projects should work together to achieve better transportation performance. What does that mean?
Better Highways Systems Have Defined Characteristics
In general, a good highway system must allow for one-entry-one-exit between destinations. Thus, if you are travelling from Mumbai to Delhi, the vehicle should enter on the highway once and exit at Delhi. It should be able to by-pass all the cities in between.
Low fatigue for long distance means two things—allowing high average speed and longer hours of travel. It should be possible to operate transport vehicles 24x7 (using driver pairs). There should be adequate rest stops facilities.
The hub & spoke design of highway system makes it economical to use large capacity trucks on trunk routes and small capacity vehicles to reach the city. This means the long-haul trucks should be able to get in and out of truck parks or logistic hubs quickly. It means we need many logistic hubs wherever there is a flow of goods out of the highway. The size of these hubs will depend upon the size of trade in that place.
The highway system should also be isolated, i.e., local traffic should not interfere with the highways. It can be done by using exits at longer intervals. This means highways need to be fenced. We cannot have grain laid out, cows sitting and people having picnic in the median garden in a highway system. This reduces the speed on the highways and creates bottlenecks or worse accidents. I have seen this on GQ roads.
Throughput design means that we aim for certain number of vehicles per day between city pairs and compute the number of vehicles per day in each of the segments of the roads. The throughput is estimated using adequate buffers based on models that use various variables such as economic activity between city pairs etc. Thus, within a Mumbai-Delhi highway, you may need different lanes. Mumbai to Vadodara may need six lane road, Vadodara to Jaipur may be four lane whereas between Jaipur to Delhi may need six lanes.
Transportation systems are flow-based design systems. The flow of traffic is the focus. Anything that stops the flow leads to losses. This means seamless lane modifications rather than abrupt ones. It means having buffer capacity even at exits.
Thus, our Mumbai Delhi highway easier exits for Surat, Ahmedabad, and types of projects Vadodara city itself. If the volume is not designed properly, then you will end up with bottlenecks at these exits.
Four Types of Projects
The projects that together will become an efficient highway system are of four basic types—each with different earning and benefits.
Revenue earning projects benefit the stakeholders—either through reduced time, reduced fatigue, lower cost, and more capacity. The traffic on these roads is ready to pay for these advantages. Such routes have a mix of people and goods traffic. These routes can have many different types of support facilities. The supporting infrastructure is also more (to account for higher traffic loads and efficiency demands).
Connectivity projects aim to connect remotely located citizens and locations.
There is no expectation of profitable traffic on these roads. This is cost-based infrastructure. Unfortunately, we still have places that do not have ANY road in the country. These projects will have all the basic infrastructure, but nature and number of facilities will, of course be different.
Enabler projects are those which by themselves do not yield any benefit but help improve revenues of other projects. These could be feeder roads, debottlenecking, setting up electronic tolling, etc. Upgrading connectivity projects to revenue earning projects also fall into this type.
Finally, there are build-and-they-shall-come projects. These projects are undertaken in anticipation that development may take place along this corridor and in future it becomes a valuable infrastructure. The name comes from a railway constructed in US which led to development of western parts. There are challenged and coordinated development planning is required to achieve the goals of these projects.
Two Ways to Prioritising Projects
Return on investment method is generally used for revenue generating projects where the expected revenues can be measured and estimated. But it cannot assess the benefits of projects in all cases.
In such cases, incremental benefit method, is used to measure and compare benefits from existing roads and potential gains when the project is implemented. It gives a clear performance benchmark for the design of new projects. Thus, if the project is meant for de-congestion then you measure time.
Smoother project Execution Requires Pre-planning
Stakeholder onboarding allows the concerns of stakeholders to be addressed transparently BEFORE the project is cleared. Many projects are delayed in courts by activist groups for unreasonable reasons. If every act of the executive and every step of execution has to go through validation by courts, then development will be costly and delayed. Part of this opposition to the project can be avoided using this process.
Complete handover- complete takeover style is better suited for infrastructure. The entire project stretch should be handed over at a particular date and the vendor should hand it back on designated dates. The more firmly we can adhere to these dates the lesser it costs and better the quality of the output.
This means completing land acquisition BEFORE awarding of tender is critical. Infrastructure projects are entirely a deadline-based ventures. The equipment, teams and experts used is of high-value and cannot remain idle. If the project commencement and construction has hiccups it becomes too costly too quickly.
Effective monitoring is critical. Monitoring is both internal and external. It includes monitoring of quality of materials and the technical process. It also means you need to have clean, updated financials available online for easy inspection by general public through a website. Monitoring is best
Focus on Enabling Projects First
When we evaluate the projects under the Bharatmala Scheme, enabler projects seem to show the maximum promise. These have great potential in unleashing the earning capacity. It also benefits the end user delivering perceptible improvement in road experience.
Debottlenecking type of projects have great cost-benefit advantages. It involves streamlining the lanes across the highway, building by-passes, decongesting the entry and exit points etc. Such projects lead to improvement in outcomes at substantially lower cost.
Electronic tolling is a project that needs to be undertaken on war footing. NHAI needs to focus on converting all tolled roads to 100% electronic tolling roads. This should reduce the toll leakages and reduce corruption in tolling (we will discuss this in next article).
Developing proper logistic parks with focus on transportation efficiency will also help improve the utilisation of roads. The flow of goods to this park (both from city side and from highway side) should be smooth.
In the next article, we will examine the reason for mess current mess in NHAI.
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