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Two arteries, both in bad shape

behala lifelines: dug up, dark and dangerous

Welccomme to thhe ciity’s southwesst! Try typing a line on a laptop or smartphone travelling down two rundown and bumpy arteries — Diamond Harbour Road and James Long Sarani — connecting Calcutta with its southwest.

Multiple barricades dot Diamond Harbour Road, which has shrunk in size to make space for construction of the Joka-BBD Bag Metro and a water pipeline of the CMC. James Long Sarani, running parallel to Diamond Harbour Road, has its flanks dug up at several places as part of a project to make the road bigger.

The result, hazarding the risk of sounding nimby, is a slow and teeth-chattering ride amid heavy traffic, long snarls, a perpetual dust cloud and a scrappy road surface in addition to the perennial problems of illegal parking, missing street lights and poor policing.

Metro risks a ride.

Project peril

A flank of Diamond Harbour Road, the major thoroughfare in Behala, has been blocked at several places — Pathakpara, Silpara, Behala Chowrasta and Thakurpukur — because of Metro construction and work on a waterline. Traffic comprising heavy lorries, buses and cars from both directions move along a single lane. Snarls and chaos are the natural outcome. Cars and bikes try to steer clear of these traps by taking James Long Sarani, turning the road into a second choke pot.

Transport department officials say around 3,000 vehicles pass through James Long Sarani every hour during peak time on a normal day. “The road cannot accommodate more than 2,000 vehicles an hour. The overload triggers massive traffic congestion,” says a senior executive engineer of the department.

James Long Sarani has a flank closed too because of an ongoing road expansion project — four lanes to six. This has reduced the width of the carriageway to 16ft at several places. There are no road signs or policemen to alert drivers about the work. “I fell off my bike two weeks ago after accidentally landing on a patch that was freshly laid with bitumen. There was no sign warning motorists,” says Niladri Basu, a resident.

Loose stone chips, mounds of sand and muck from the construction site spill on to road. The stretches near Thakurpukur, Kadamtala and Behala Chowrasta are particularly hazardous.

Lights out

The PWD had taken away the light posts and traffic signals along James Long Sarani over six months ago to clear the way for widening. Several stretches of the road have been expanded already but lights have not returned. The crossings are either unmanned or are managed by a single constable holding LED signal lights, which many motorists fail to notice. This leads to congestion and accidents.

“My car was hit by a truck at the Behala Chowrasta crossing on James Long Sarani last month. The signal was for traffic on the other direction but I did not realise that since no traffic light was there. A traffic sergeant fined me after the accident. I don’t know where he sprung up from because I hardly see any policeman at the crossing except for a lone cop managing traffic with hand signs,” says Sudipta Chakraborty of Sakherbazar in Behala.

Rahul Sardar, who works at a restaurant and returns home after midnight on his motorbike, says the biggest danger comes from the lack of street lights. The road in front of MP Birla School, near Behala Chowrasta and between Sakherbazar and Silpara, is the worst of the lot. “It is too risky to drive with large trucks plying in the dark. I take a detour through the alleys,” Rahul says.

Terror trucks

Overloaded trucks often speed along the road at well over the speed limit of 60kmph with little regard for traffic rules and fellow motorists. They take sharp turns and switch lanes suddenly. Many truckers take a break, parking their vehicles illegally on the roadside. “It’s risky to stop some of these reckless drivers because they try to run us over and often deliberately knock down guard rails,” says a constable of the James Long Sarani traffic guard.

The stretch between Pathakpara in front of Orient Day School and Behala bus stand number 14, opposite Silpara basketball courts, are always lined with buses, cars and trucks. This is, by the way, a no-parking zone.

Dust danger

Whether you smoke up or breathe in, it’s the same here. Residents say a permanent dust haze hangs in the air because of the traffic and the roadwork. Food stall owner Sarbajit Saha says: “I often have trouble breathing after the daylong exposure to dust. I have been diagnosed with respiratory distress. The road has remained like this for the past three months and I don’t know how much more we have to endure,” Saha says, fighting a losing battle with the dust menace despite throwing two buckets of water every hour on the road outside his stall.

Official-speak

“The expansion of James Long Sarani was due for quite a few months. It is a large stretch and we had to break it into several parts for the roadwork. Once the expanded road is ready for use, we will fix the street lights and traffic posts. Footpaths with decorative cement tiles will be built too,” a PWD official says. “Diamond Harbour Road is in bad shape because of the Metro construction. It is going to take at least two more years.”