What could be an inexpensive yet effective alternative to steel barriers to help reduce accident deaths on highways? Maybe bamboo and coir.
Crash barriers made of Beema bamboo and coir are being developed as a low-cost solution as the Centre looks for innovative, newer ways to bring down fatalities and mishaps on roads.
Experts from the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT), Nagpur, are working on the design using Beema bamboo — the local product of mainly Karnataka and adjoining areas.
“We have recently given the task to VNIT to work on it. I want farmers to grow the Beema bamboo, and the road sector will use it. Right now they cost around
Rs 4,000 per ton. There will be five feet fencing of the bamboo installed deep into concrete slabs and held together by strong coir ropes. That is the basic design,” Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, told The Sunday Express.
“I am a farmer myself. My idea is that if we are to install crash barriers worth Rs 25,000 crore per year in highway projects, let that money go to the country’s farmers. So I have asked the experts to prepare this,” he said.
Along with awareness and enforcement, he said road design, including installation of crash barriers, are established practices to enhance road safety.
But will such structures be durable and weather-proof? “Of course. Go to the North-East and you will see how strong bamboo structures withstand extreme rainfall and everything,” he said.
Crash barriers are typically meant to prevent vehicles from going off highways and should there be an accident, the barrier will cushion the impact and minimise the chance of fatality to the extent possible.
Sources said conventional crash barriers made of metal and alloy may cost around Rs 2,000 per metre. The bamboo barrier is likely to cost a fraction of that. Around 5 per cent of the cost of the entire bouquet of work involved in making India’s highways go into road furniture.
“We will use jute, coir and such material, not plastic. That will benefit farmers. We will use them in all access-control highways, so that humans and animals cannot stray into highways, and lives are saved,” Gadkari said, adding that he will also appeal to IITs and other engineering institutes to come up with such low-cost solutions using natural, indigenous materials that farmers can grow.
Beema or Bheema bamboo is a type of bamboo engineered to be a stronger, fast-growing and tall clone of the traditional bamboo found in the Indian subcontinent, especially the North-East. This variety grows well in southern India.
In the current iteration of the design of the Beema crash barrier being developed, the cost is estimated to be one-third of conventional metal barriers, VNIT director Pramod Padole said.
“Our departments of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics are working on this. We will be testing how much load the structure can take, and other variables of the proposed design using computer simulation. Once that is settled, we will go for actual installation on highways for on-site testing,” Padole said.
Around 1.5 lakh people die every year in close to 5 lakh road accidents in India. Over a third of those accidents happen on the highways. Currently, India is engaged in a project to remove accident-prone “black spots” and rectify road designs on highways with loans to the tune of Rs 14,000 crore from the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.