Monday 7 April 2014

The Sea Link - Mumbai's greatest ever feat of engineering?

There are so many civil engineering projects going on in Mumbai right now - the Monorail, the Metro, the airport's new terminal T2, road widening, road extensions and Expressways being built.  None of them are finished or appear destined to ever be finished.  I don't think the city's authorities can keep up with the pace of burgeoning Mumbai.

My favourite feat of engineering in the city (to look at anyway) is definitely the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (or Rajiv Gandhi Seal Link to give it its proper name). This is perhaps because I travel across it on most days - the bridge connects the place where I live with South Bombay.  

Impressive view of the bridge from Worli Fishing Village

However, despite being officially completed in 2009, even the Sea Link remains incomplete.  You will notice that when you get about three quarters of the way along - near the Worli end, the road forks off to the right and then ends abruptly.  If you were walking along and did not look where you were going, you'd fall into the sea. Caput.  This was the part of the bridge that was supposed to make a second connection to Haji Ali, further down in South Bombay. A contract was even signed between the authorities and the construction company (Reliance Infrastructure) to produce this part of the Sea Link way back in 2010 - but due to arguments with political parties, over the cost as well as the logistics of the project, the contract was eventually cancelled.  I am really not surprised by this.

Plan of the originally proposed second 3.3 km Sea Link from Worli to Haji Ali
- 'put on hold' after financial, logistical and political issues.
The Sea Link was built with the intention of reducing the commuter time between Bandra and Worli from up to 90 minutes down to 30 minutes or less. The only other way to reach south Mumbai before that, was to drive through Mahim - with its congested, narrow streets. The administration of traffic across the bridge is further supposed to be the epitome of efficiency - but I am afraid it is not.  You will often reach the toll plaza - say at 9.30am, which is peak time - only to find queues going back some distance behind each barrier.  This is due to several reasons - all of which annoy the hell out of me.  
  1. The toll booths for each barrier were built so high up that they need an intermediary bloke to grab the money from the driver, pass it up to the guy in the toll booth and then pass back down the ticket to the driver. At most European booths (and I imagine ones in the USA) - you fling your money into a bucket and the barrier opens automatically, giving you the correct change in the process.  If there is a human manning the toll booth, you would generally be within reach of him! 
  2. Hardly anyone owns a weekly, monthly or annual pass.  This is because only a monthly pass actually exists and if you want it you can only buy it on the first day of the month.  You can't buy it over the internet and you can't buy it from one of the toll booths - you have to stop your car on the Bandra side just past the toll booths and buy it in the building to the left.  Don't try to buy it on the 2nd or 3rd or any other day of the month because you won't be entertained.  Oh, and don't think that your own efficiency means that your monthly pass will be any cheaper than 30 separate day passes - it won't be.  Also, if you have a monthly pass, there is only one lane which which responds to the electronic tag. This lane normally has a road cone in the way which has to be removed by a human before passing through.  Therefore totally defeating the object of the exercise!
  3. At the other end - nearest Worli, the engineers did not design a proper exit from the bridge - one that should sweep down and filter into the road along Worli Seaface.  Instead, the bridge slants down towards the sea face and then comes to an abrupt end - you have to slow down, halt and then wait to turn left.  This causes the traffic to back up for up to 10 minutes at busy times.  At the Bandra end, they did not build a proper turn off at all.  There is a very sharp turn left (almost a dirt track) as soon as you come off the Sea Link, which takes you under the flyover and into Bandra Reclamation. It was obviously built as an afterthought. 
Bartlet loves nothing better than a breezy trip over the Sea Linl

Apart from the inefficiencies of the toll booths, the pot-holeless road itself is lovely to drive on. It's such a nice feeling to wind down the window and feel the sea-breeze in your hair . My dog Bartlet loves it! It's such a shame that the ride is so short and that the speed limit is only 50 km per hour.  The eight lane Sea Link is really the only road in Mumbai where it would be possible to pick up some speed without the risk of being killed. Having said that - the quality of driving is so poor in Mumbai, that the death toll probably would be enormous if a high speed limit was allowed!

If you are visiting the city as a tourist, a ride across the bridge from South Mumbai is a must-do must-see.  It is one of the few very impressive modern structures in the city.

Some more pics, which I have taken over the last year - each with a different perspective: 

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link is designed using cable-stayed spans - the tallest of which is 128m.  There are pre-stressed concrete-steel viaducts at each end.  See here for further technical information. The Foundation Stone was laid in 1999 by controversial public figure Bal Thackeray.  The project, which was supposed to cost around Rs 6.6 billion ($110m) ended up costing Rs 16 billion ($270m) with the estimated build time of 5 years eventually extending to 10 years. 
The tallest span of the bridge at 128m (taken at Mahim)
Despite an attempt to reduce commuter times, the cost is still prohibitive to most drivers.  Hence why the road itself is usually almost empty.  One way is Rs 55 (£0.55/$0.80), a return is Rs 82.50 - making it affordable only to car-owning upper middle classes, expats and the rich.  City taxis still use the Mahim route to reach Bandra from South Bombay unless the passenger is willing to pay the toll. 
Moody at monsoon time
The average Mumbaikar will never get to go across the Sea Link - all they can do is admire it from afar.
Above & Below: Two of several photos I have taken to exemplify the long and needless queues at the toll booth

The queues are even worse during the monsoon - and some of the lanes turn into rivers due to there being inadequate run-off.
Contemplation.  View from Mahim.

View of the southern viaduct from Worli Fishing Village.
Bartie loves the feel of the wind through his ears as we cross the Sea Link
Actual, unadulterated view of the polluted Mumbai Skyline from the Sea Link (taken in January 2014)
Just for fun - one of the policemen that guard the exit to the Sea Link having a nap.  Not so fun is the fact that explosives detectors still have not been installed at either end of the bridge despite the fact they were ordered in December 2012 and should have been delivered by June 2013. Hence why you will see plenty of security on the Sea Link. There is still a fear that terrorists could attempt to blow up the bridge by sending explosive-laden vehicles across it.  That's a pleasant thought. Read more here
My favourite picture which I took from an apartment block near Taj Land's End.  Almost a bird's eye view!


  1. Looks impressive, such a shame it's not quite completed!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

    1. Nothing is ever completed in Mumbai..the whole of Mumbai is an 'ongoing project'! Nice to hear from you Liz!

  2. I am thankful the speed limit on the Sea Link is only 50 km/hr :-) As it is, taxi drivers like to speed on that road - I suspect it makes their meter run faster!

    Before the Sea Link, travel through Mahim was arduous to say the least - and on Wednesdays with the Novena it was almost impossible!


    1. I think you're right must have been in the city for a while if you can recount travel through Mahim. I often see the very rich folk in their very big cars speeding across the Sea Link, sometimes barging us out of the way - or worse, the politicians with their security guards who think their lives are under threat if they don't drive at 100 kms per hour!

  3. 20+ years since I left Bombay - do not miss the noise and the pollution, but it is still 'home' :-)


  4. What a sad situation! The dichotomy shown is truly tragic. Scary to see the guard having a snooze on his plastic chair instead of watching out for terrorists. Finally, the fellow being contemplative while inhaling the 'parfum de Mahim says it all!
    Hope that something positive happens soon.

    1. Change can be a bit slow around here...but I do hope so too!

  5. The bridge / roadway is quite handsome, especially that first photo, and I had heard before about the frustrating aspects of it not being completed. Your description of the toll booths, buying the monthly ticket only on the first day of the month, etc. is almost funny! Not if you have to endure it though.

    1. No Terra...I spent another 20 minutes waiting to go through the toll booth this morning because the middle man could not deal with the cash quick enough!

  6. I have traveled on this road only a few times since I live nowhere close to either ends but apart from the inefficiencies you mentioned, the sea-link is a pleasure to drive on. (And to really enjoy it, the speed limit needs to be broken :P)

    But it is pretty sad that all infrastructure projects, including this one, never get completed, forget on time, even within acceptable delays or budget overshoots. But that's the way India functions, doesn't it?



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