Wednesday, 26 January, 2022
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12 of Mumbai’s British-era bridges are being replaced, beginning with iconic Tilak bridge

Tilak bridge will be replaced with 2 new cable-stayed bridges, which will be constructed on either side of the existing structure. They are expected to be completed by 2023.

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Mumbai: At one of central Mumbai’s busiest east-west crossings in Dadar, a group of workers are quietly working on the curb, moving underground utility lines for a new bridge. On either side, suburban railway trains on the Central as well as Western lines continue running without interruption.

Above the railway lines, a creaky steel girder bridge, built in 1925, is carrying the weight of the city’s vehicles and pedestrians. This is Mumbai’s landmark Tilak bridge — built by the British — that has over the years emerged as one of the key and most crowded east-west connectors in the city.

However, the ancient viaduct, now worn out and unsafe, will soon be razed to the ground and make way for two new cable-stayed bridges.

The Tilak bridge is the first of 12 British-era bridges that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is rebuilding along with the Maharashtra Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation (MRIDC).

Rajesh Kumar Jaiswal, managing director at MRIDC, told ThePrint, “The normal life of steel girder bridges is 100 years, not more than that, and many of these bridges are older than a 100 years.”

Jaiswal also said that the corporation will try and build the new bridges before demolishing the old one to ensure least disturbance to traffic.

“Wherever possible, we are trying to first build a new bridge and then demolish the old one so that traffic is not affected. This is what we are trying to do for the Tilak bridge. Where shorter spans are not possible because of lack of space or due to traffic movement, we are building cable-stayed bridges,” Jaiswal said, adding that about five of the 12 bridges being replaced will be cable-stayed.

While the MRIDC has started shifting utility lines, the actual construction of the new Tilak bridge and the Reay Road bridge will begin in November.

The other 10 bridges at Ghatkopar, Byculla (the Byculla overbridge and S bridge), Mazgaon, Mahalaxmi, Arthur Road, Lower Parel, Belasis Road, Currey Road and Matunga labour camp are at various stages of planning and approval.

The MRIDC hopes to complete the construction of at least three of these — Tilak bridge, Reay Road bridge and the Byculla overbridge — by 2023.

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Preparation to rebuild century-old bridges

Most of these bridges cross over railway lines, are at extremely crowded locations and see a high traffic density every day. Demolishing them before building a new one could paralyse the already slow-moving traffic of Mumbai.

Consequently, while planning the new bridges, the MRIDC decided to work contrary to the infrastructural norm of planning the length and width of the bridge according to traffic requirements.

Instead, the corporation surveyed the ground realities of the area to arrive at potential options to build a new bridge without razing the old one first.

“We first did a drone survey of the entire area, measuring horizontal and vertical distances, recording every component on the site and so on to decide the size and the length of the bridge as well as aspects such as where we can construct the column,” said Jaiswal.

“We mapped underground utilities till five metres in depth. After that, we finalised the most feasible location for the bridges,” he added.

For instance, at Tilak bridge, the MRIDC decided to build two three-lane bridges of 600 metres on either side of the existing four-lane structure with only one pier between the Central and Western Railway lines to ensure minimum disruption to suburban rail traffic.

The new bridges to replace the Tilak bridge will cost Rs 375 crore.

The MRIDC will use a similar approach to build a new Byculla rail overbridge, without dismantling the existing structure and obstructing traffic.

The Reay Road bridge, however, will have to be first demolished to make way for the new one, Jaiswal said.

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Mumbai’s bridges

Mumbai has over 300 old and new bridges that are maintained by at least five different agencies.

For the bridges built by the British, the UK government usually sends a letter reminding authorities in the Maharashtra government that the bridge is nearing the end of its lifespan and needs restoration.

The Mumbai civic body has received such letters for some of the 12 bridges that will be restored, said a civic official, who did not wish to be named.

The plan to rebuild the 12 colonial-era bridges gained momentum after the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Andheri over Western Railway lines in 2018.

The Western and Central Railways and the BMC then decided to study the structural stability of all of Mumbai’s over bridges after the accident with the help of experts from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

Following the audit, the BMC gave the work of reconstructing the 12 bridges to the MRIDC, a joint venture between the Ministry of Railways and the Maharashtra government, constituted in July 2018.

Also read: Trams could return to Mumbai as city works to decongest traffic in Bandra Kurla Complex


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