It's funny how the opening of a new road becomes such a big deal sometimes in India. Surely you can argue that no road projects get as controversial or messy as some of ours, but still, it's just a road, right? A few hours spent on the road in question today - and I have become less cynical. In India, new roads - or expressways I should say - are more than just tarmac or concrete. They not only are more than being reduced travel time or higher toll tariffs. A new road represents hope, it can mean new destinations - both literally and figuratively, and perhaps most important of all - it is yet another sign of a modern India.
Okay, so the heavy stuff out of the way, now let me tell you about my experience. I decided to drive from the Greater Noida end to Agra, and back again. On the way up, we stopped frequently to film certain sections of the road, the toll booths, etc. But on the return leg, I got scientific, put the car onto cruise control (at a 100 kilometres/hour which is the speed limit), and set out for Delhi. Or Greater Noida again I should say - a distance of just about 165 kilometres. And I did it in exactly one hour and twenty seven minutes. That an average speed of almost 114 km/hour! And without speeding. I have to say that I was on the road just two hours after it had been opened to the public - on a weekday! So there wasn't much traffic, and the toll booths were a breeze too as a result, with no waiting. In fact Jaypee has decided to be generous and keep the new expressway toll-free till August 15. Given this, I expect the floodgates to open this weekend as automobile enthusiasts and those simply curious about the new road - besides people who genuinely wish to make the Agra-Delhi commute - will take the new route over the old one.
Once toll is charged it's going to cost you as follows:
- Noida-Aligarh: Rs 50 (2 wheeler), Rs 100 (Car)
- Noida-Mathura: Rs 100 (2 wheeler), Rs 220 (Car)
- Noida-Agra: Rs 150 (2 wheeler), Rs 320 (Car)
The old highway charges around Rs 60 toll for a car which is way cheaper by comparison. And even though both highways have traffic bottlenecks at both the Delhi and Agra ends, I still believe a number of people will prefer to pay the higher toll. That's because the new road is also completely fenced in - and even though I saw local villagers and stray dogs breaching this with ease, it does keep cattle out. The road is also elevated, which means there is no chance of any tractor or truck driver suddenly ducking in from a country road or a dhaba. There are very few opportunities to exit the highway or take U-turns and so I also expect wrong-side traffic to be minimal. This means that the 165 kilometres of highway will be stress-free and fairly high-speed driving. That makes the new road better than the Delhi-Jaipur, or even Mumbai-Pune expressways frankly. On the downside, while I did see that the infrastructure for restaurants and rest stops has been put in place, but they are yet to be made operational. There are still no fuel pumps either - which could be a problem for those who don't come tanked-up.
And finally I will say that tourists will love the convenience of the new road - and those who have made the trip on the older route will appreciate the difference for sure. This would likely result in day-trips to the Taj Mahal now being a lot more pleasurable and less tiring too. Because what used to take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours will now take between 90 and 150 minutes! Trust me the extra cash-out will be well worth it.