Mumbai bridge raises hopes for new Indian infrastructure 29 Jun 2009, 1038 hrs IST, AGENCIES Print EMail Discuss Share Save Comment Text: MUMBAI: After years of delays and legal wrangling, India's first "sea bridge" opens to traffic this week, aiming to ease chronic congestion on Mumbai's notoriously choked roads. It is hoped that the 16.5-billion-rupee (340-million-dollar) eight-lane freeway will help cut the 40-minute journey between the suburbs of Bandra and Worli to just eight minutes. But as the bridge opens on Tuesday, to ease the bottleneck of honking cars, lorries and motorbikes on the mainland, there are hopes, too, that as well as showing off India's engineering prowess, it can inspire other projects elsewhere. Mumbai bridge raises hopes for new Indian infrastructure- Infrastructure-Economy-News-The Economic Times "Undoubtedly the Bandra-Worli Sea Link is an engineering marvel which shows that Indian construction players have come of age, and are capable of matching global counterparts," said Hitesh Agrawal, head of research with Angel Broking. "However, the government needs to look into critical issues to ensure infrastructure projects are not delayed," he told AFP. India's infrastructure is in desperate need of an overhaul but road, rail, airport and power schemes have often been delayed by tortuous state bureaucracy, a lack of private sector funding and land ownership disputes. The sweeping, 5.6-kilometre (3.5-mile) Bandra-Worli Sea Link was first commissioned in 2000 but work was held up until 2004 because of litigation and protests from the local fishing community. Like many of India's cities, upgrading Mumbai's road system is a must. Currently, about 125,000 vehicles criss-cross Mumbai north to south in each direction every day, according to the bridge's builders, the Hindustan Construction Company Limited. As private car ownership increases on the back of India's economic boom and more people move to cities, 250 more vehicles are expected to drive the route every day, it added. The city's suburban rail network is also under pressure from a population of 18 million that is growing by the year. Further phases of the bridge are planned, eventually stretching to the commercial business district in the city's southern tip. Construction of the first phase of a much-needed suburban metro system is also under way. India's economy grew by 6.7 percent in 2008-09, down from nine percent a year earlier, hit by the effects of the global economic downturn. GDP could be between 6.0 percent and 6.3 percent in 2010, according to analysts. Policy makers have identified infrastructure projects as key to helping the economy bounce back to the near double-digit growth of recent years. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that more than 500 billion dollars' worth of investment will flow towards India's infrastructure sector by 2012, to upgrade or build more roads, ports, railway lines and airports. "Funding this is likely to go beyond the means of total government spending," Ravi Bhamidipathi, PwC's head of engineering and construction in India, said in a recent report. PwC identified public-private partnerships (PPPs) involving domestic and foreign investors as one possible way of funding the shortfall. Unlike in China, where new infrastructure projects have taken off in recent years, the pace of change in India has been slow. In the past four years cash has been awarded for 11,502 kilometres of new roads. But only 4,575 kilometres have been completed in the past two years, according to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). As of March, nearly 16,000 kilometres of new road projects were waiting for funding. More than 200 national road projects -- equivalent to 13,000 kilometres -- are out to tender. Elsewhere, about 10 billion dollars' worth of investment in new or existing airports has been proposed to cater for an increase in air traffic and rising tourism. India's new road transport and highways minister Kamal Nath is aware of the problem and wants to speed up funding awards. "The greater the outlay on construction of roads, the greater the impetus to the economy," he has said. But analysts say funding is not the only hurdle that needs to be overcome. "The government needs to give attention to issues like land acquisition issues, a major reason for delay in many projects," said Angel Broking's Agrawal. Despite the problems, analysts remain optimistic that the infrastructure projects will get off the ground. "The opportunities to develop a significant business in India are extremely promising for construction firms if they have carefully selected local partners and structured contracts sensibly to maximise tax benefits," PwC's Bhamidipathi said.