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In India's Financial Hub, Mumbai, 'Sea Bridge' Aims to Ease Congestion

In India's financial hub Mumbai, a bridge has been built over the sea to ease chronic traffic congestion in one of the worlds' most crowded cities. Updating inadequate infrastructure in Indian cities has become critical as its economy expands.

After a brief inauguration ceremony, ruling Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi drove on the eight-lane bridge that extends over the Arabian Sea across Mahim Bay.

The 5.6-kilometer bridge is the first to be built over the sea in India, and links the western suburb of Bandra with Worli in south Mumbai. It will cut travel time along this route from nearly 45 minutes to about eight minutes. A one-way trip in a car will cost about $1.

The bridge is expected to ease Mumbai's unending traffic snarls. But it will only make a partial difference in a city where an overburdened transport network makes commuting a nightmare.

Bidisha Ganguly at the Confederation of Indian Industry calls Mumbai's sea bridge a "landmark project" where infrastructure is concerned. "A great beginning has been made with this sea link, and there are opportunities for many more of such projects. Public transport is a major concern, and now with the congestion on the roads, its time to look for alternatives," Ganguly said.

The government says new flyovers, an underground railway, and an expansion of the sea bridge have been planned to cater to the city of 18 million people, and 1.5 million vehicles.

But experts are calling for faster implementation of these projects. In the past, many infrastructure projects have been delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles, lack of funding or litigation over land. For example, the construction of the sea bridge took nearly a decade as protests and litigation from the fishing community held up work until 2004.

The protests were triggered by concerns over the bridge's impact on the sea bed and its implication for the livelihood of fishermen.

It is not just in Mumbai where the transport infrastructure needs to be overhauled. In nearly all Indian cities, roads and mass transit systems have become inadequate as an expanding economy attracts millions of people from rural areas to cities, and the middle class snaps up more cars.

The government acknowledges that infrastructure needs investment of billions of dollars, and has commissioned several projects to build new highways, airports and rail networks. Experts say infrastructure is a key factor in holding back the economy from its full potential.

 
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