Hailed as an engineering marvel, the Pune Mumbai Expressway is now a road known for accidents and traffic jams. State Highway Police (SHP) have said that on the patch between Lonavala and Khandala, there are spots that have sharp turns and slopes where the drivers of heavy vehicles often turn off the engine to save fuel. This leads to poor control of brakes on the wheels leading to many accidents.
City-based builder and businessman DS Kulkarni’s car met with the accident, near Khandala exit, after a container crossed over the divider and hit the car. In a very similar accident in December 2012, well-known Marathi film and theatre actors Anand Abhyankar (50) and Akshay Pendse (33) were killed when a speeding truck crashed near Baur village. Pendse’s two-year-old son, Pratyush, was also killed in the tragic accident. Officers from various divisions of the highway police say that a similar pattern is seen, with 15 to 20 per cent of accidents involving heavy vehicles and small cars on the Expressway.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Madhuri Kangne of the Highway Police said, “Overspeeding is one big problem and driver of both heavy and small vehicles need to be made aware of the dangers. However, a tendency among heavy vehicle drivers is to go on neutral gear and owing to poor control of brakes, many accidents have occurred.”
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“Along with spreading awareness, we have written to the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the IRB (company responsible for operating and maintaining the Expressway) asking them to increase the height of the dividers and make structural changes at the spots of curves and slopes. But little action has been taken,” she said. The MSRDC officials responsible for the Expressway could not be contacted in spite of repeated attempts. IRB’s Chief General Manager for Pune Mumbai Expressway, Lt Col DAK Joshua (Retd) said, “Police have not made any specific requests to raise the median height at the particular accident location. However, a number of safety-related requests are received from police which we keep complying with. If modifications to the existing Expressway design are required, the matter needs to be raised as a request to MSRDC. Our role pertains to operations and maintenance of the Expressway that we are doing since 2005, as per the executed design and applicable technical maintenance specifications.”
The state government has given an in-principal approval to a project that will involve the construction of tunnels and bridges to remove the slopes and curves on the Expressway. However, the actual process to implement the project is yet to begin. Till then, the Highway police say, they can only continue to regulate the traffic and make efforts to create awareness to avoid the never-ending accidents. A staffer from the Khandala division of Highway police said, “In recent times, we have seen very young and inexperienced drivers on the steering wheels of heavy multi-axle vehicles. Driving these vehicles is a complicated job and their inexperience could lead to accidents too.”