On Sunday, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari inaugurated Atal Setu — the third bridge over the Mandovi river in Panaji. The new bridge once opened fully, is expected to reduce traffic at key entry points to Goa’s capital city.
Work on the 5.13-km bridge from Pundalik Nagar junction in Porvorim to Merces junction began in July 2014, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone. The bridge, being built by Larsen and Toubro, was initially estimated to cost Rs 482 crore, which has since escalated to Rs 860 crore.
What purpose does the new Mandovi bridge serve?
The bridge was necessitated following the ongoing expansion of National Highway 66 which runs primarily along the western coast of India, down the length of Goa. The two existing bridges — one of which was rebuilt following its collapse in July 1986 and the other was built in 1998 — were considered inadequate given the increasing domestic and commercial traffic. According to data released by Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation (GSIDC), at least 66,000 vehicles ply on the two existing bridges every day on average.
Apart from easing pressure on the two existing bridges, the new bridge will also serve as a bypass for those who want to travel from north to south without entering Panaji (as they are currently forced to do). According to GSIDC’s 2017 estimates, some 25,000 vehicles out of the daily aggregate of 66,000 would like to take this option. This, in turn, will result in a huge reduction of traffic snarls at the Kadamba bus terminus junction at the entrance of the city. The full bridge is expected to open in March this year.
The bridge in numbers
The cable-stayed part of the 5.1-km-long and 21 m wide bridge is 620 m long. The viaduct has a length of 3.3 km and a width of 19.2 m. The bridge is 15 m higher than the existing two bridges. GSIDC claims it has saved 10 crore litres of water by using a chemical to cure the cement instead.
Controversy over name
As the bridge neared completion, demands were raised to name it after two of Goa’s prominent leaders — its first Chief Minister Dayanand Bandodkar, and the first Leader of Opposition Jack de Sequeira. One organisation even asked for the structure to be named after the current Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, and there was talk in the BJP that the bridge should bear the name of party ideologue and Jana Sangh founder Deendayal Upadhyaya.
Impact on the environment
According to an Environment Impact Assesment carried out by Mumbai-based Fine Envirotech Engineers, “mangroves shall be affected to a certain extent at some regions, however, will be replaced at suitable sites identified by Forest Department”. Activist Claude Alvares of the Goa Foundation said the GSIDC had flouted its undertaking given to the National Green Tribunal by cutting mangroves and filling the river with mud. GSIDC vice chairman Siddhath Kuncoliencar denied the allegations: “We are going perfectly by the undertaking that we have given in the NGT,” he said.