Monsoon mayhem on highway of horror

Until the monsoon arrived, this 18.35-km stretch of asphalt was just another arterial link for a city of commuters battling traffic pile-ups to get to work in central and south Mumbai from distant suburban homes. Suddenly, the Eastern Express Highway used by an estimated 50,000 passenger cars daily is not a safe route anymore, having accounted for over 200 accidents, minor as well as significant, since June 1. As many as 73 casualties have been recorded on this stretch during the same period at an inconceivable rate of 3.04 per day.

For motorists, who thought the financial capital's "lifeline" railway that claims an average 10 lives a day is an unsafe bet, driving to work is suddenly a hazardous proposition too.

Linking Sion in central Mumbai to Thane on the fringes of the financial capital and beyond, the Eastern Express Highway is one of the several key roads widened and "improved" under the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project, by firms contracted by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). With the MMRDA having spent Rs 125 crore in 2007 on asphalting the Eastern Express Highway and tens of crores in 2008 as well, it's no surprise that the spate of accidents has led to the game of passing the buck.

The traffic police blame the slippery surface, with several officers stating that the surface material mastic asphalt, used to drain rainwater is the culprit. "The condition of the highway is such that vehicles are prone to slipping when it rains. However, the MMRDA won't admit this, choosing to shift the blame on rash drivers," said a Traffic police officer.

According to Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Sanjay Barve, lubrication liquid that drips from vehicles mixes with dust on the highway. "During monsoon, when the roads are wet, this lubricant mixes with water, leading to accidents resulting from vehicles slipping," he said, adding, "drivers should take care at such times".

... contd.

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