At the nondescript village of Lohtaki, Haryana, on the Delhi-Dausa stretch, work is proceeding at a furious pace. Technicians toil under the scorching sun, putting finishing touches to bridges and culverts. Truckloads of soil makes its way to lay the foundation of the Rs 90,000-crore expressway that will cut across five states — Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The urgency of the workers and engineers braving frequent dust storms is palpable. The first phase from Delhi to Lalsot, 30km ahead of Dausa, is scheduled to open by December 21, and the entire expressway by January 2023.
The eight-lane expressway has many firsts to its credit. The entire stretch will have six-foot walls on both sides to prevent animals and pedestrians from entering. Enough space has been left on either side to enable expansion to 12 lanes.
This will be the first expressway in Asia to have animal overpasses where it runs through wildlife sanctuaries. There is also the country’s first eight-lane tunnel in Mukundra sanctuary to minimise the impact of traffic zipping past at speeds up to 120kmph.
Two million trees and shrubs, watered with drip irrigation, will be planted along the entire stretch while some parts of the expressway will be lit using a mix of power supply from state grids and solar energy.
NHAI is billing it as a “green highway”, and it will rope in school children for a plantation drive along the route. A proposal to prioritise green fuel stations, including hydrogen fuel pumps, is under discussion.
The expressway will have wayside amenities like resorts, restaurants, food courts and fuel stations at 93 places. It will also be the first expressway in the country to have helipads and fully equipped trauma centres for accident victims.
“It’s a lifeline of the country and I feel proud to be associated with it,” Suresh Kumar, project director at NHAI, says in his office where a giant board flashes the various milestones that are to be achieved. Kumar, who had suffered a paralytic stroke, works 16 hours a day along with his team to monitor the progress of the five stretches with which he has been entrusted.
The scale of the project can be gauged from the fact that it will consume five lakh tonnes of steel and 35 lakh tonnes of cement, besides the 50 crore cubic metres of earth used to lay its foundation. It will also create 19,000 man-years of employment.
Since the work started on September 5, 2019, teams have fanned out to speed up the acquisition of the remaining portion of land and plotting the exact route alignment. The expressway is expected to save more than 320 million litres of fuel every year.
“All aspects of the project from alignment selection and pavement technology to the mode of contracts have been carefully thought through. The foremost challenge was acquisition of 15,000 hectares of land, which is 90% done,” said Manoj Kumar, NHAI member and in-charge of expressways. “Now, the focus… is real-time monitoring and decision making.”
Eye in the sky
The work was divided into small packages (stretches) for faster construction and to enable medium-scale construction companies to take part. For example, the Delhi-Vadodara segment has been divided into 31 packages allotted to several companies. Package 3 in Haryana is 74% complete, and package 6 in Rajasthan 70%.
Suresh Kumar recalls all the red tape they had to cut through for shifting hightension power lines, environmental clearances, underground surveys, acquiring land, compensating farmers and finalising contracts for mining soil from adjoining fields to use in the expressway. “We did the land acquisition in record time. The compensation amount to farmers was transferred digitally and not a single cheque was issued to any individual,” he said.
Land acquisition is pending on two stretches in Gujarat, but officials say they expect to get the entire land in two months. “We have January 2023 as the deadline for the entire stretch and there will be no compromise,” said an official.
Officials are mapping expressway work with drones. “We are monitoring all aspects of construction, including the quality of construction, plantation and wayside amenities. Monthly drone videos are also used for monitoring apart from the ‘data lake’ portal and other means,” NHAI chairman S S Sandhu said.