CRF Blog

A bridge in Mumbai

by DavidDe La Torre

In Halfway to Paradise, The Economist sees a half-completed bridge in Mumbai as a mirror of India’s infrastructure problems.

If any country needs better infrastructure, it is fast-urbanising India. The government hopes a trillion dollars will be spent between 2012 and 2017, although with a creaking banking sector and jumpy investors that is optimistic. If any megacity needs better transport, it is Mumbai. Formed from seven islands, the city was given by Portugal to Charles II of England in 1661 as dowry for his marriage to Catherine of Braganza. It is a long spit whose hub is at its southern tip. Manhattan has 16 bridges, four underwater tunnels and a ferry system linking it to the mainland. Mumbai has just six bridges, all but one at its northern extremity.

Two main roads, three railway lines and an airport besieged by shanty towns are its fragile links to the outside world. The city centre is like a head on a long, strangled neck. The difficulty of commuting is partly why Mumbai is so densely populated, with property prices driven high and migrants forced into slums, which now house over half the population. There are only a handful of successful state-sponsored developments: a satellite city on the mainland called Navi (New) Mumbai, some flyovers and a new office park built on marshland near the airport.

What Mumbai has been unable to do in practice, it has done in theory. The first master plan to relieve the city’s woes emerged in 1948, the most recent in 2011. In the six decades in between some fine minds, from J.R.D. Tata, a revered industrialist, in 1981, to McKinsey, a consulting firm, in 2003, have had their say. There is widespread agreement on what is required. First, a road round the city’s perimeter — probably a series of Sea Link-style bridges along its entire west coast, and on its east coast a highway partly to be built on land occupied by the city’s dying old port. Second, to link this ring to the mainland, a 22km road over the sea, an idea known as the “trans-harbour link”. Third, near the end of this putative bridge, on the mainland, a new airport. And fourth, at least nine metro lines in the city itself. [more]