By Ammar Zaidi
Nearly two weeks after toll collection was suspended for light motor vehicles at the Thane-Mulund and Airoli toll collection points, the traffic nightmare continues for motorists using these arterial roads to travel to Mumbai from the adjoining suburbs. Minister for Public Works Department Eknath Shinde suspended the toll collection until the re-opening of the Mumbra bypass following an agitation by the residents and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that threatened a stir near the toll plaza.
Regular motorists, using the Eastern Express Highway, that vehicular traffic on the highway has in fact risen as motorists, who were earlier avoiding the toll-road are now using the road too. On average, over 11.30 lakh vehicles pass through the Thane-Mulund toll plaza on Eastern Express Highway every month.
Even as Jayant Mhaiskar of the Mumbai Entry Point Limited (MEPL) that handles operation of the toll plazas said the company has incurred an estimated loss of Rs 12-14 crore so far owing to the stoppage of toll collection, the two-kilometre queues on the Thane end of the toll plaza on Eastern Express Highway have not been resolved.
Motorists using Eastern Express Highway are not only spending long hours on the roads but are also spending more on fuel.
Manvi Sharma, a Thane resident, said she took to travelling by autorickshaw when her fuel budget shot up from Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 owing to the traffic pile-up at the plaza. “I leave home at 7.45 am to reach work at 10 am,” says Manvi, who handles content and social media marketing for a popular booking portal. “The Majiwada flyover is full of potholes and causes considerable delays too,” she says. The Majiwada flyover immediately precedes the toll plaza on the Thane end.
Chidambur Pujari, who also travels from Thane to Andheri, has tried to work around his schedule to avoid the morning rush hours. Nilesh Dama, who usually has work meetings all over Mumbai, says he cannot even keep up with even one meeting per day now. “Trucks should not be allowed during the peak hours. And I don’t understand why potholes are covered with pavered blocks. The roads are too narrow and the list of woes is endless,” he says.
While motorists complain that heavy vehicles using the highway on account of the closure of the Mumbra Bypass are the reason for the traffic jams, owners of trucks and heavy vehicles are battling their own set of woes. “We can’t use the Western Express Highway so we have to come via Thane and the Airoli route is closed between 4pm and 10pm,” says Bal Malkit Singh, Chairman of the core committee of the All India Motor Transport Congress.
The suspension of toll collection was to have improved the traffic conditions at the toll plaza, but the increase in the number of vehicles on the road and the potholes, as well as the bottleneck at Kopri bridge, have kept long traffic jams at the toll plaza a persisting problem. A motorist who travels from Waghbil Naka in Thane to Marol everyday wonders if he could “hang on to a drone” to reach his office. It takes him three hours to reach his place of work from home, a journey that earlier took 90 minutes.