Nearly three years after the erstwhile Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government came up with a set of measures to be put in place to boost safety on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, notorious for a high number of mishaps, many of these are stalled due to red tape.
After a spate of serious accidents, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) had in 2012-13 devised several measures such as setting up a trauma care centre, an air ambulance, a highway surveillance system, truck terminals close to the two ends, and wire ropes.
However, besides the installation of wire ropes — an imported Brifen wire rope safety fence system — at the medians to avoid crashes, none of the other projects has been commissioned yet.
The expressway has been severely criticised for rash driving, the lack of enforcement of traffic rules and inadequate surveillance leading to a high number of accidents. The highway has seen nearly 14,500 accidents between 2002 and 2012 in which nearly 1,400 people have lost their lives, as per a study done by an accident victims’ kin.
On Sunday, 17 people died and 43 were injured when a luxury bus rammed into two vehicles and rolled down 20 feet off the expressway.
A trauma care centre, the first one to be set up on the 95-kilometre stretch to provide medical aid to victims within the golden hour, has been constructed and ready for more than a year now. However, the level-four centre is yet to begin operations due to the lack of doctors and paramedical staff. The MSRDC has been corresponding with the state government since 2014 requesting for assistance in operating the trauma care centre with the required paramedics, doctors and staff, and advise on the required medical equipment.
A senior MSRDC official said, “We were also trying to rope in expertise from Mumbai’s KEM Hospital, but it did not work out. The Siddhivinayak Trust has now agreed to operate the trauma care centre. The contract will be approved in the MSRDC board meeting this month.”
The facility at Ozharde near the Talegaon toll booth will be equipped to conduct initial evaluation, stabilise accident victims and provide diagnostic services. A level-four trauma care centre can also provide surgical and critical care services.
The MSRDC had also decided to set up a paid air ambulance at the trauma care centre to fly accident victims to the nearest hospital. However, despite having first awarded a contract in January 2013, the air ambulance service too is yet to be made operational. Officials said the necessary infrastructure and permissions are now in place and the contractor is expected to procure the vehicles and start operations this month itself.
Similarly, a proposed intelligence highway surveillance system involving speed cameras and digital warning boards is yet to see the light of day with the government unsure about who will pick up the tab for the Rs 63.8-crore system. The MSRDC had called for tenders for the project in 2014.
The system, commonplace on major highways in developed countries, involves setting up 12 high-speed cameras at seven chronic locations on the expressway. The GPRS-based system will also record details such as the vehicle’s registration number, the place of speeding and the time. The images will be flashed on digital boards that will be set up along with the cameras as a warning and the information will be transmitted to the control room.
A senior MSRDC official said, “It is an expensive project. IRB, the toll operator in charge of the expressway’s maintenance, will not fund it. We have written to the state government requesting funds.” He added, the MSRDC is in the process of constructing truck terminals with most accidents on the expressway involving heavy vehicles.
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