Mumbai, June 30 (IANS) India’s first open sea bridge, a 5.6-km cable-held engineering marvel expected to cut travel time by 80 percent for this city’s harried commuters, was inaugurated Tuesday, heralding a new era in infrastructure consolidation by the new government that returned to power after the May elections.
Ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the gleaming new $325 million bridge, called the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL), which was conceived over four decades ago. She became the first person to go up and down the sea bridge in her motorcade.
The bridge on the Arabian Sea cost Rs.1,634-crore ($16.34 billion) and the authorities hope some 150,000 vehicles will use it each day.
For the past three nights, the private sector Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), that builds nuclear plants and highways, had built up the tempo for the bridge’s inauguration with spectacular multi-colour laser shows and fireworks that were visible from afar.
The two cable bridges, one 500 metres long on the northern side and another 350 metres long on the southern side, allow the passage of fishing boats below. The bridge rests on two towers, each 126 metres tall or as high as a 43-storey building.
The bridge – which was conceived in 1963 but contracted to the HCC only in 2000 – encompasses some of the most modern security systems, including electronic eyes on the top and underneath, authorities said.
They said the project involved some 3,000 professionals from 11 countries, including China, Egypt, Singapore, Thailand, and even Serbia and Switzerland. The bridge, that used 40,000 tonnes of steel and 90,000 tonnes of concrete, weighs 270,000 tonnes.
The bridge is to be named after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has announced. Sonia is Rajiv Gandhi’s widow.
The bridge is expected to cut travel from 60 minutes to around six minutes from Bandra in northwest Mumbai to Worli in the south.
From Wednesday, traffic will be permitted on the bridge. It will be toll-free for the first three days.
Those present at the inauguration included Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, central Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Maharashtra strongman and central Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was present at one of the inaugural functions though not at the site.
Mumbaikars, including a galaxy of actors, corporate honchos and the average commuter, are visibly excited by the sea link. Huge crowds thronged both ends of the BWSL – at Bandra and Worli.
The bridge has surpassed all other projects of the state-run Maharashtra State Road Development Corp (MSRDC) and in terms of its sheer beauty, grandeur and the attention it has grabbed from the whole country in the past few months.
“Last night, I specially went on the terrace of our eight-storey building to watch the laser show and fireworks,” Helen, well-known yesteryear actor and dancing star, told IANS.
“I have read a lot about how it will solve the traffic problems in Mumbai. I plan to go for a drive there soon,” added her husband and legendary scriptwriter Salim Khan, whose apartment facing the Arabian Sea is right opposite the sea link.
In fact, several Bollywood personalities – Shah Rukh Khan, Rekha, Subhash Ghai, Farhan Akhtar and others – live on the promenade facing the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and most get a balcony or terrace view of the magnificent bridge.
Businessman Pratap S. Bohra, who lives in Juhu, said he had long abandoned his office in Nariman Point on account of the time wasted in the traffic.
“We kept hearing about the sea link. Now that it is ready, I am seriously planning to attend my office in south Mumbai. We hope the second phase from Worli to Nariman Point will be taken up soon,” said Bohra, who opened another office in Santa Cruz, a western suburb.
Some, like jeweller V.S. Shrikrishna, are disappointed that two-wheelers shall not be permitted on the sea link. “To save time, I may go by car. But then again, I have to shell out a toll,” he said, a tad confused about his commuting plans.
A commuter by car, for instance, would have to pay Rs.50 for a single trip, Rs.75 for a round trip, Rs.125 for a daily multiple-entry-exit pass and Rs.2,500 for a similar pass for a month. The toll may be hiked in the future.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, that returned to power with a thumping majority after the April-May elections, has promised to invest billions of rupees in infrastructure in the next five years.