Never-ending mess at Ashram Chowk

The traffic nightmare at Ashram, one of the busiest intersections in Delhi, will continue till at least April with the Public Works Department yet again extending the deadline for the completion of an underpass that is primarily aimed at decongesting the stretch.

Prolonged and haphazard construction, poor site management and extension of barricades for building the 750-metre underpass, connecting Nizamuddin Railway Bridge and the Ashram Chowk, have turned Ashram into a commuter’s nightmare.

The underpass which was scheduled to be completed in December 2020, will now take at least till April to finish. Earlier, the PWD had extended the deadline till March, but due to poor pace of work, even the March deadline could not be met.

Hindustan Times on Thursday did a spot check at the intersection, where traffic jams have become the order of the day. Drivers, who had been waiting to cross the junction for several minutes, were seen honking helplessly to seek passage, as the trail of vehicles manoeuvred their way through the narrow lanes. Most of the space on the carriageways from New Friends Colony towards Nizamuddin and vice-versa has been taken up for construction work, leaving little space for the thousands of vehicles to move.

Even during non-peak hours, vehicles at the Ashram intersection, which was already the Capital’s biggest choke point, are seen waiting in traffic snarls for hours only to cross the junction.

Over the past fortnight, the PWD has not just extended the barricades up to the centre of the main intersection, crunching the space for traffic movement significantly, but has also simultaneously taken up space on the sides of the Mathura Road on the New Friends Colony side for the construction of pavements.

The section of the Mathura Road near CSIR Apartments and on the opposite side of the carriageway has been cordoned off for the construction of pavements and digging work is on. What the construction agency has not taken into consideration, however, is that this, along with the main construction work in the middle of the main road, has left barely one lane for traffic.

Surendra Singh, who owns a tea stall near the CSIR Apartments, said vehicles taking a left turn from the Ring Road to go towards NFC are suddenly squeezed for space as the barricades on both sides of the road create a bottleneck.

“This construction work started around a week ago. Vehicles have three lanes till they cross the Metro station gate, but the road space shrinks to one lane a little ahead,” Singh said.

Delhi PWD minister Satyendar Jain’s office said an additional two-metre space has been occupied for construction work, beyond what was originally being used.

“After the construction of the retaining wall of the underpass, this barricading will be removed and an additional four-metre space will be available for traffic movement,” the minister’s office said in its response.

The minister’s office said that most of the barricades on the stretch will be removed by February-end and the remaining work will be fast-tracked.

While the overall traffic on the Ashram intersection is mismanaged, commuters going towards Nizamuddin have it worse. The PWD barricades, along with the vehicles parked on roadsides and encroachment at the Hari Nagar Ashram market forms a sudden and narrow bottleneck.

Shalini Yadav, a regular commuter on the stretch, said crossing the portion of the road between the main intersection and the railway bridge is a test of a driver’s skill.

“On one side you have the barricades, and on the other you have vehicles and cars parked on the roadside. If that was not enough, the pedestrian movement is also high in this area in the evening. Pedestrians just jump before your car unexpectedly because there is no space for them to walk,” Yadav said.

Senior Delhi traffic police officials said since traffic plan for the site was approved, unforeseen events such as the closure of borders because of the farmers’ agitation has led to an increase in the traffic volume at the intersection.

“When the plan was approved, there were alternative routes that could be used by commuters instead of having to cross the Ashram intersection. But with many of these now being restricted, people going towards Noida or Faridabad have to use this route. We thought this would be a temporary arrangement, but it has lasted longer than we anticipated,” said a senior traffic official, who asked not to be named.

The problems, however, do not end here. The placement of temporary traffic signals to streamline traffic is causing cascading jams on the Ring Road and on the Ashram flyover.

Apart from this, to avoid getting caught in traffic, commuters are now using a narrow passage between the barricades and the divider on Mathura Road on the NFC side, to crossover to reach the fuel station on the stretch. This traffic movement is further adding to the logjam.

The PWD in their response said that since December 2019, when the foundation stone of the underpass was laid, the work on the project has moved slow because of multiple hurdles.

“Shaheen Bagh protest started in mid-December 2019, due to which traffic load increased on Mathura Road and traffic police did not allow work on the full width of road. In March, lockdown was imposed due to Covid-19 pandemic, after which work resumed in May,” the PWD said.

“Only after May 2020, the work started but there was shortage of labour and shortage of material because of the pandemic,” the minister’s office said.

It added that other hindrances such as shifting of underground utilities, including water and gas pipelines, and power cables, also delayed work.

“As per current situation the work will be completed by end of April this year,” the office said.

Sewa Ram, professor of transport planning at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), said while undertaking construction on busy roads such as the Ashram intersection is a challenge but better use of technology and site management can ensure that minimum inconvenience is caused to commuters. He said the construction agency should adhere to the deadline, as extensions would only add to traffic problems on the stretch.

“Road space should be left as per the volume of traffic. Since traffic volume was increased, the site should have been managed accordingly. More resources should have been used to fast-track work,” he said.

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