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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 4, june 1-15, 2009
How sustainable are
road improvement projects?
(By a Special Correspondent)

In the past two years, the Government and its departments have focussed on a major initiative to improve the aesthetics and safety aspects of our roads. This has involved the removal of overhead cabling by various agencies and ensuring that they are ducted underground. The sustain­ability of such an effort in the long run, however, remains a big question mark. While the roads may look better without overhead cables, will the cables underground be safe from damage and frequent digging?

Underground ducting began in 2007 when it was decided that all cable TV and internet service providers formed, at the initiative of the Corporation, a consortium that would remove all overhead cables connected with their services and duct them under the ground. As a pilot project, the consortium laid underground cables along Radhakrishnan Road, Cathedral Road, Nungambakkam High Road and in parts of Anna Nagar. In order to prevent ­frequent road cuts for maintenance work on these cables, it was decided that inspection chambers would be built at specified intervals. Each cable operator was expected to pay Rs. 9400 per running km each year towards the maintenance. The pilots have since been ­declared successful and the consortium has announced that it would, by end 2009, cover 100 km of roads in the city, largely in the central and southern ­areas and free them from overhead cabling. This would go a long way according to the ­authorities in freeing the roads from overhead clutter and also reduce the hazards that vehicles and pedestrians face from overhead cables.

However, what remains to be seen is the effectiveness of the underground ducting. The essential problem in our city is the multiplicity of agencies that take to digging up roads and in the process of doing so they ­invariably damage the underground installations of other agencies. While the cable operators may be following scientific procedures, other agencies most certainly do not. There is no clear demarcation of what goes in where under the ground and any road cut causes havoc across multiple services. An ­important player under the ground is Metrowater, or the CMWSSB. This agency’s water supply and drainage services ­require frequent repair works. The inevitable method for such activities is to cordon off large sections of busy roads and dig the entire area up. The CMWSSB is yet to handle ­underground inspection in a manner which does not hinder other services.

That there is no coordination of any sort between the various authorities who rule the underground in Chennai ­became clear when a few months ago there came to light an instance of TNEB workers laying a high tension power line through a storm water drain pipe belonging to the CMWSSB! The excuse given was that laying such a cable along the side of the road would affect political party workers in their erecting poles for cutouts and banners!! The work was stopped after newspapers ­reported the matter.

The latest instance is the road widening work that is ­going on along the Virugam­bakkam Canal in Vadapalani. A clutch of high density underground cables belonging to the Electricity Department is ­preventing any further road widening. For the record, they are also causing sedimentation in the canal and preventing ­water from flowing owing to poor methods of laying the cables. At present, matters have reached an impasse with the EB refusing to shift the cables unless the Highways Department, which is in charge of the road widening, pays for it. The Highways ­Department has countered this by saying it has no sanction for such expenses.

With such an attitude among the departments, will the work done by the consortium of cable TV and internet operators alone do the trick of improving our road safety?


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