For thousands of commuters driving on the Pune-Mumbai expressway, it has been a different experience in the ghat section after 190-year-old British-era Amrutanjan bridge was demolished during the first week of April.
For those regularly passing through the stretch, removal of the bridge has added another lane and negotiating a curve has been “easier” and “safer”, maintained drivers. Expressway police say there have been no accidents at the spot since April 5, when the bridge was demolished and traffic movement was slow due to the lockdown.
“Earlier, there were only two lanes where bridge had been standing and vehicles had to slow down there. Now with three lanes on one side of the carriageway, traffic movement has been smooth,” said Parshuram Bohir, a traffic constable of the highway police. “Generally accidents of dimensional cargo (ODC) trucks used to take place at the spot as the slope is steep here. Pune-bound heavy vehicles used to get stuck there, but now with more space there is no delay,” added Bohir.
Built in 1830, the bridge was used for transit of goods trains between Pune and Mumbai in the initial years which was stopped later. Traffic jams were the norms at the location of the bridge because of its massive piers and mishaps also used to occur due to breakdown of heavy vehicles.
With movement of goods being allowed completely after the lockdown, the expressway has regained life, however, traffic is only at 50 per cent capacity.
“My car passed through the stretch easily. Earlier, I had to slow my vehicle down, but now I can continue with the same speed on the expressway,” said Amar Shitole, a regular commuter between Pune and Mumbai. Sumit Sawant, another commuter, said, “There used to be a lot of confusion due to the bridge. It is a completely different experience now and I passed the same spot without changing my lane, which was not possible earlier.”
To discipline vehicles, highway police have marked lanes with white markers, which is only being partially followed, according to officials. The heavy vehicles, which are supposed to be using the left lane often use the right lane.
“We have been penalising those who do not follow the lane norms. Overall, pulling down of the Amrutanjan bridge has helped in reducing traffic congestion at the spot. Vehicles pass through with ease and there are now very low chances of accidents,” said Jagdish Pardeshi, assistant police inspector (Sahayak police nirakshak), highway police, Dasturi.
Anup Nadole, a truck driver, says, “I do not face any issue now while turning the turn due to the wide lanes.”
“There is less traffic congestion as earlier the left side lanes were smaller and hence, heavy trucks were not able to pass through, but now it has been broadened,” explained Bhaskar Khade, police naik, highway police, Dasturi.
Mobility experts, however, question the demolition of the bridge, saying that it may not be the solution to the traffic problem. Pranjali Deshpande, transport planner and an independent consultant with the World Bank and French development bank, said, “Razing the bridge was strange. Why did the existing condition not considered when the expressway was being made? The demolition could be required for safety reasons, but the authorities should improve the safety of the entire expressway. In the long run, if we want safer modes of commutation, then, we need to shift our focus to intercity buses and railways rather than building more highways.”
Sujit Patwardhan, founder and trustee of NGO Parisar, said, “If they have demolished the Amrutanjan bridge with a view that it will reduce accidents, then it does not make sense. How one can expect reduced number of accidents if you allow vehicles to move at a high speed. The move will not help and the public and administration should understand the value of heritage sites.”
Brief history of the British-era bridge
Amrutanjan bridge was built 190 years ago and the railway bridge was opened on November 10, 1830, as a key connector between Pune and Mumbai.
It got the name Amrutanjan because of the large advertisement hoarding of its namesake at the location.
It later served as the third line for the railways on the Bhor ghat section to reverse engines, but it was stopped after more powerful engines were introduced.
The wide pillars of the bridge caused steep turns int he ghat section causing many accidents on the expressway.
MSRDC received permission to demolish the bridge in 2017.
Due to heavy traffic flow on the expressway, MSRDC had not been able to complete the task. With the lockdown underway and almost negligible traffic, MSRDC sought permission to pull it down, again.
The bridge was demolished with the help of a controlled blast by MSRDC on April 5. Holes were drilled at 15 to 20 locations on each of its six piers.
On April 5, at 6:20pm, the bridge was demolished by simultaneous detonations.
Total fatal accidents: 34- No of dead: 40
Total serious accidents: 22- No of injured: 53
Total minor accidents: 7 – No of injured: 7
Total accidents without injuries: 54
Total fatal accidents: 16 – No of dead: 17
Total serious accidents: 10 – No of injured: 20
Total minor accidents: 8- No of injured: 8
Total accidents without injuries: 12
Total overall accidents:
Total accidents in 2019: 117
Total accidents in 2020: 46
Source: Hindustan Times