Where: Jessore Road, a 7km potholed stretch between Madhyamgram and the airport
When: August 2013
Travel time: Bone-rattling ride in a car for 2 hours and 30 minutes in the afternoon
Nine months later: Road repaired, distance covered in 23 minutes
How: A Rs 3.4-crore repair job did the trick
The potholes were big enough and aplenty to knock the “shocks” of any car travelling between the airport and the Barasat Dakbungalow crossing of Jessore Road.
This was last year. The nightmare road has been repaired since and it hardly looks the crater corridor that actor-legislator Chiranjit Chakraborty of Trinamul wanted renamed Uday Shankar Sarani after it made him “dance” in his car.
A ride along the thoroughfare last month revealed the contrast: the potholes were gone and the surface gleamed in its new asphalt coat. But the dreaded potholes were threatening to reappear after the recent spells of rain.
The road has become smoother but the perennial snarls persisted because the two-lane road carries traffic more than double its capacity.
The PWD, having repaired the road, has started the next part of the plan — widen the stretch from two lanes to four.
“We have passed the order and once the bidding process is complete, work on expanding the road to four lanes should start within five-six months,” said a PWD official.
The road is part of NH34 that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) returned to the state government last year after waiting four years for land to start the four-lane project.
PWD officials said the road has to be widened to cut snarls and frequent wear and tear because of the traffic volume.
A widened road might solve some of the problems but major faults could remain.
Metro lists the lows.
The road’s top layer has been thickened with a 30mm bituminous cover while the base got around 80mm of the material in accordance with standards set for nationals highways. The reinforcement may ensure durability but the real test will be in monsoon.
“These are preliminary repairs. When the widening work starts, the road will get another coat of bitumen to guard it against monsoon wear and tear,” said a PWD engineer.
Lane dividers have been installed at several places along the stretch for safety. “Accidents happen along the bends. We have put dividers now, reducing the number of accidents,” an officer of Bidhannagar commissionerate said.
A major reason for snarls on Jessore Road is illegal parking along the roadside from Birati to Madhyamgram. Cars crawl at crossings like Birati, Michaelnagar, BT College and New Barrackpore because illegally parked vehicles leave little space for traffic.
Vehicles remain parked under “No Parking” signs, though the number of signages have increased over the past few months. In the absence of surveillance, illegal parking thrives.
Residents allege that policemen charge a “monthly fee” of Rs 500 to look the other way. Police denied the allegation, saying they book “a lot of offenders”.
Shanties, roadside shops, garages, heaps of building material, bus and taxi stands eat up half the road space.
Buses of routes 223, 30B/1 and 45 remain parked along the roadside any time of the day near the BT College and Birati crossings. “The road has been repaired but traffic movement will never get better unless the shanties and illegal garages are removed,” said Akshay Tripathi, a resident of Barasat.
Commuters said the practice of dumping building material on the roadside has to stop to clear the carriageway. Many bikers had skidded on spillover sand from heaps kept on the footpath.
Overloaded lorries speed along the road — beyond the 60kmph limit — with little regard for traffic rules and fellow motorists. Trucks are not allowed on Jessore Road between 6am and 1pm and 4pm and 10pm but the rule is seldom followed.
The stretch plunges into darkness after sunset because the PWD had uprooted lamp posts and traffic signals over four months ago to clear the way for widening the road.
Several portions have been expanded but the lights were yet to return. Signal-less crossings are the most dangerous because these are either unmanned or managed by a single constable holding an ineffective light stick after dusk.
Goutam Das, who returns home at night on his motorbike, said the dark corridor in front of Michaelnagar was the scariest. “I can’t see a thing… the beam from truck headlights is blinding in the dark. You can’t imagine how risky it is.”
Vagabonds, not policemen, were found at several police booths along the stretch.
A handful of traffic volunteers and home guards, who have no power to prosecute offenders, were seen directing traffic at congested places like Birati, BT College and Michaelnagar. Motorists and bikers broke rules at will, leaving the volunteers blowing their whistles helplessly.
Driving on wrong flanks and choking both sides of the road were the prime reasons behind the congestion on Jessore Road.
On the airport side of Belghoria Expressway, buses and trucks climb the road divider to take U-turns. “Since we have no power to book the driver, no one listens to us,” a volunteer said.
“We don’t have enough men to manage traffic. We had to hire volunteers on an annual contract,” said a senior officer of Bidhannagar commissionerate.