Travel from central Tamil Nadu to Chennai along the East Coast Road (ECR) is soon set to be hassle-free as highway expansion plans between Villupuram and Pondicherry have gotten the green signal.
Though ECR is the shortest route, many, particularly those travelling via private cars, prefer taking Villupuram-Tindivanam route. Despite having to take a small detour, drivers chose the latter as it is, for the most part, a four-lane carriageway and vehicles are able to reach the destination much quicker.
The shorter route along ECR, which supports only twoway traffic, is congested more often than not. The 70-km stretch between Villupuram and Pondicherry via Cuddalore is dotted with several thickly populated towns and villages. So regular peak hour traffic coupled with highway movement made things worse, said G Nagarajan, a taxi owner from Cuddalore.
“The road is narrow and one can hardly overtake vehicles ahead. Every time a fullyloaded truck crosses this stretch, we can see long queues behind,” he added.
To overcome this difficulty, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had proposed to expand the 67-km stretch into a four-way bypass road with a 45m-60m right of way (RoW) and grade separators at an estimated cost of ₹1,876 crore.
Besides this, the project further involves construction of 17 bridges, nine flyovers and one interchange.
The plan, however, faced opposition from locals as the proposed design crossed through Oussudu bird sanctuary and the expansion work involved the felling of about 6,000 trees.
A senior official from the NHAI said the proposed project would be set up outside the ecosensitive zone of the sanctuary and there was no diversion of forest land. “Also 10 trees will be planted for every tree felled as per government norms,” he said, requesting anonymity.
The project was earlier put on hold by the Madras high court, which directed the NHAI to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study and get clearance from the Union environment ministry as the project crossed through Coastal Regulatory Zones (CRZ) too. But the Supreme Court stayed the HC order.
Against this backdrop, the Centre’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) recommended clearance for the project, but clarified that it could be altered based on the SC’s decision.
The committee also said the NHAI should ensure that flow of natural tidal water to mangroves should remain unaffected and no groundwater extraction should take place in CRZ areas for construction.
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