The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on Thursday told the Madras High Court that it had been decided to lay a greenfield eight-lane expressway from Chennai to Salem because widening of a couple of existing highways between the two cities would require demolition of several residential, commercial and industrial structures and still it may not be sufficient to cater to the needs of burgeoning traffic.

NHAI project director P.T. Mohan made the submission in a counter affidavit served on advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam, who had filed a public interest litigation petition opposing the acquisition of wetlands for the expressway. According to the counter, the expressway would bring down the travel time from five to two-and-a-half hours, cut down diesel consumption by 2.45 lakh litres every day and result in annual saving of Rs. 700 crore.

Environmental benefits

“Due to these savings, there will be a reduction in carbon emission and atmospheric pollution levels,” the project director said. He said that vehicles from western districts such as Salem, Namakkal, Karur, Erode, Tirupur and Coimbatore were now using either the Chennai-Tindivanam-Ulundurpet-Salem route spanning across 334 km or the Chennai-Kancheepuram-Vellore-Krishnagiri-Dharmapuri route.

Claiming that the number of vehicles plying on both the routes had breached the capacity of the existing highways, Mr. Mohan said: “With the passage of time, these roads will be the most congested like Anna Salai and Poonamallee High Road [in Chennai].. In several locations, widening of the existing roads will involve additional acquisition of land (nearly 15 m on both sides for an area of 2,200 hectares approximately) and dismantling of several structures.”

Hence, it was decided to lay a new expressway and a Bengaluru-based private firm was engaged by NHAI to prepared a project report.

The firm proposed an alignment starting from Chennai outer ring road at Mannivakkam to Ariyanur in Salem. Hence, the 57.30-km stretch from Salem to Harur was declared as NH179A on June 6, 2017 and a further stretch of 220 km from Harur to Tambaram was declared as NH179B on March 1, 2018.

An application was submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment to obtain environmental clearance and an expert appraisal committee of the Ministry recommended grant of terms of reference on May 7.

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