The State Government has yet again resurrected the idea of having a multi-level parking lot adjacent to Panagal Park. This is perhaps the fourth or fifth time that this plan is being mooted. Each time it has been hailed as a solution for the congestion that continues to plague the surroundings and each time it has failed on just one count – no contractor has ever bid for the tender each time it has been floated. Will it be any different now?
The Corporation of Chennai has repeatedly toyed with the idea of multi-level parking facilities at several locations in the city – namely Wallace Gardens (Nungambakkam), Broadway, Flower Bazaar and Panagal Park. Of these, barring the first one, none has moved beyond the proposal stage. The sole exception, which is nearing completion, probably owes its success to the persistent push of a nearby private hospital that desperately needs this facility to decongest the surroundings.
The others have had a chequered history even on paper. The Broadway lot, proposed to be constructed at the present bus terminus (which in turn is on the erstwhile Madras United Club ground), was announced four times only to have had no bids for the tender. It has even now not been given up; it has been merely put on hold thanks to the Metrorail project taking over quite a bit of space meant for the facility. The Flower Bazaar parking lot, which was meant for two-wheelers, has also remained on paper for want of takers. Given this background, what is the guarantee of success for the T. Nagar plan?
On paper at least, the idea looks good. The Rs. 25 crore facility will be on Bhashyam Road, adjacent to Panagal Park, on land that is already being used for parking vehicles. It will be on 1600 sq m of land, with space for 500 cars and 900 two-wheelers. The consulting agency had initially suggested that the entire facility be underground, below Panagal Park, with exits on GN Chetty, Doraiswamy and Venkatanarayana Roads. But the Corporation has shied away from this, citing implementation difficulties. While this may be a tough solution to implement, it probably was the best, for it would have allowed for smooth flow of surface traffic. The idea has already been successfully executed in New Delhi’s Palika Bazaar, in the heart of Connaught Circus.
The present modified plan, which calls for an over-the-ground facility, has received the State Government’s approval. The Corporation hopes to call for bids and select an approved contractor in six months. The plan will take 18 to 24 months to implement. All this is provided a contractor expresses interest. Reluctance to participate in such bids mainly stems from doubts about commercial viability, possible delays in execution and the likely difficulties in dealing with multiple government agencies. And so, we may very well remain at this stage even after a full year, with the number of vehicles on the road likely to have increased substantially by then.
The problem calls for some out of the box thinking. The Corporation, while undoubtedly good in its intention, is coming up with solutions in isolation, none of which will have a significant impact towards decongestion. After all, what difference is a facility for parking 1400 vehicles of different types going to make at T Nagar? What is required is that agencies such as CUMTA (Chennai United Metropolitan Transport Authority), the Metrorail, the MRTS and the Corporation, together with private transport authorities, come up with a unified plan for freeing of our roads. This can mean significant increases in parking fees, decongestion surcharges and other deterrents against using of private transport. This has to be done in tandem with development of multimodal public transport facilities at hotspots such as T Nagar. Only then will we have a long-term sustainable and impactful solution.