The ECR upgrade will help the state socioeconomically by stimulating foreign trade and industrial production along the southern coast.
The East Coast Road (ECR) road expansion project (two-lane to four-lane road) on Mamallapuram and Puducherry stretch may be realigned by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
NHAI has informed the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that it may consider realigning the road at Odaiyur wetland in Cheyyur taluk of Chengalpet district.
The picturesque ECR is an important road corridor in Tamil Nadu connecting Chennai with Cuddalore through Puducherry. The road was formed in 1998 by interlinking and improving a series of small village roads that were connecting the fishing villages along the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
The construction cost component of the road expansion project of the complete stretch is expected to cost Rs 135 crore. The land acquisition cost is estimated to be around Rs 500 crore.
The NGT had previously briefly barred NHAI from moving forward with the road widening project in the contested area. It is because Odaiyur wetland hosts vast seagrass meadows and is home to thousands of winter migratory birds and comes under a no-development zone where road construction work is prohibited.
The road widening work started in January. Soon after that, K Saravanan, a member of the local fishing community, filed a complaint with the NGT.
The southern bench of the NGT halted construction in January, but during subsequent hearings, the tribunal asked NHAI to consider alternative methods of laying the road that would not harm ecologically sensitive areas.
In response, the NHAI informed the Tribunal on 17 February that it is reconsidering the alignment of the highway on the disputed stretch near the Lagoon and has sought two weeks for a solution.
The NHAI has placed yellow coloured marker stones inside the Lagoon and started levelling it. The area where the stones were laid is classified as an intertidal zone, and the law forbids any construction or development activity in these coastal regulatory zones, he contended.
Odiyur Lagoon near Kuvathur is a tide-influenced body of water, with the high tide line marked up to the current ECR road. “It was low tide and hence the water receded from the existing Road during high tide the water rises till the existing road and may go further,” said Saravanan in his petition, reports Times Of India.
Long bridges have been planned by NHAI as the road passes through several rivers, backwaters, and extensive stretches of salt pans.
The ECR upgrade will help the state socioeconomically by stimulating foreign trade and industrial production along the southern coast, as the road connects the main port cities of Chennai and Thoothukudi.
ECR Connectivity From Mamallapuram To Puducherry
In the previous year, NHAI announced that it will resume work on expanding to four lanes the 105 km stretch of the ECR between Mahabalipuram and Puducherry.
In a bid to improve the road connectivity to Puducherry, the Union government in 2018 proposed to widen the 107-km stretch from Mahabalipuram to Puducherry under the Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I (Highways project). The union government also allocated Rs 3,000 crore for the project.
NHAI even prepared a DPR (detailed project report) in 2019 and invited bids for widening the ECR to four-lane in two packages, including a package to a four-lane the 61.4 km stretch between Mahabalipuram and Marakkanam at the cost of Rs 1,209 crore.
However, the expansion project was stalled as there was a huge delay from the state government in handing over the stretch to NHAI for upgradation work.
Despite the state government giving an ‘in-principle approval’ in 2019 for transferring the 61.4 km ECR stretch between Mahabalipuram and Marakkanam to NHAI for widening it into a four-lane, there was no progress on the project.
Tamil Nadu Road Development Company (TNRDC), an entity under State Highways that developed ECR between Akkarai and Puducherry, had sought compensation from the state government for settling the bank loans before transferring the road to NHAI.
TNRDC demanded Rs 222 crore compensation for handing over the required land. The organisation also sought further compensation for revenue lost once the toll plaza on the stretch was handed over to NHAI.
The issue was finally resolved in April 2022, with TNRDC officials confirming the state government had agreed to help them meet the liabilities.