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Take freeway link to Falta

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government has unveiled plans for a new freeway, linking Barasat in the north to Falta and Raichak in the south, aimed at reducing the traffic load on Calcutta.

The four-lane highway project, which will ride on the back of an estimated investment of Rs 800 crore, will be laid with participation from public and private infrastructure builders.

Starting from the Barasat Bypass, the 60-km-long Eastern Expressway will run past Rajarhat township and behind the Calcutta Leather Complex, meeting National Highway 117 at Shirakhol.

From there, it will branch off, with one fork leading to Raichak and the other terminating at Falta.

According to commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen, 'apart from being an outer ring road for Calcutta, it will be the highway backbone for Bengal, providing an unbroken link from the north of the state to the south'.

He explained: 'The idea is to have a highway connecting the Special Economic Zones and ports to National Highway 34, where vehicles can move at around 80 kph. Since the proposed road will only graze the outer boundaries of Barasat, Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, it will reduce congestion in these towns,' Sen added.

With the government facing a funds crunch and the need to improve road infrastructure being urgent, the project is billed as the government's first foray with public-private partnership into the roads sector.

'We had written to the ministry of surface transport to take up the project. However, we're not ruling out public-private partnership here. We are keeping all options open, since this road is very important to us,' commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen said on Sunday.

Officers at Writers' Buildings confirmed that the government was drawing up the paperwork for a build-operate-transfer scheme with private partnership.

According to town planners, the road is an immediate requirement for the future, given the city's recent phenomenal growth along its eastern fringes.

'With the expansion of Rajarhat second phase, the leather complex and Rajpur, Sonarpur and Baruipur townships being constructed, the freeway will be an alternative to the Bypass, which is likely to become as congested as AJC Bose Road in 10 years' time,' a senior Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority official said.

However, state government officers foresee problems relating to acquisition of agricultural land for the project. 'A clearance will have to be sought from the environment department, since the proposed road skirts the East Calcutta Wetlands,' a state government official said.

An appraisal report drawn up by Consulting Engineering Services last year on the proposed road has suggested that in case the government seeks private participation, it should impose a toll system and offer commercial exploitation of land in the area, especially around the proposed Sonarpur township, to make the project viable.

The consultants have estimated that the government would have to shell out around Rs 170 crore as cost of land acquisition and for resettlement of the displaced people.

'We will have to make the project very attractive for construction companies to participate,' said secretary Sen.

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