India's Highway Super-System: Future MEGAPROJECTS594,635 views
- 2 years ago
India's $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor is one of the most ambitious, expensive endeavors in human history. But the project that will change the lives of the most people is the construction of hundreds of thousands of kilometers of paved roads.
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Video by Bryce Plank and Robin West
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Some footage courtesy of Aneesh Arora:
India loves megaprojects. The country’s $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor is one of the most ambitious, expensive endeavors in human history. Completing 1,500 kilometers of new railway and more than 20 brand new cities will set the stage for India to become a manufacturing superpower in the next two decades. It’s so important I made a video all about it a couple years ago, it’s linked below. Now, the corridor may be vital to India’s future economy, but it’s not the project that will deliver the largest day-to-day improvement in quality of life. Neither will a new mega-airport under construction in Mumbai, or World One—the largest residential tower in the world, or even a 500 km high speed rail line planned for India’s west coast.
No, the project Indians need most is more basic than all that: it’s hundreds of thousands of kilometers of paved roads.
Like the rest of the world, the Indian people have fallen in love with driving. But there currently aren’t enough reliable highways to hold all the cars in a country of 1.3 billion people and growing.
The good news is that the Indian government has learned one of the key economic lessons of modern history: that the not-so-secret ingredient of America’s dominance over the last half century is our vast network of well-maintained streets and highways. Roads allow us to move ourselves — and all of our goods — fluidly from city to city, from fields to towns to air and sea ports, and beyond.
China learned this lesson a while ago. They’ve spent tens of billions of dollars on roadways over the past two decades as their economy boomed. Now that its transportation infrastructure is maturing, the Chinese are positioned for rapid development.
India wants to follow the same blueprint and is in the midst of a sustained, years-long, multi-tens of billions of dollars megaproject to do just that. India has about the same population as China, but double the density. Get this, of the five most-densely populated cities in the world with more than four million residents, four of them are in India, including the planet’s most crowded megacity, Mumbai.
So with much less land to work with, India’s challenge will be expanding, modernizing, and widening its existing network of roads, which, on the plus side, is already quite extensive. On the downside, 40% of it is dirt. Without good roads, the country is less unified because its people and goods can’t move around freely enough, especially to and from rural areas.
One of the new roads in the megaproject that’s already completed is a $2B expressway that slashed the travel time between Delhi to Agra by up to four hours. But barbed wire fencing all along the route keeps it clear of the people and slow-moving vehicles that crowd the rest of India’s roads, and high tolls mean it's used only for the rich.
Challenges like this will need to be addressed and overcome by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who’s a big fan of megaprojects, and has maintained his commitment to the ambitious goal of completing 18,500 kilometers of controlled-access highway. One of the main obstacles to achieving this vision is that the megaproject suffers from chronic underfunding and the disappointment of only reaching about half its construction goals, year-after-year.
Compare this to the way the Chinese operate. As an authoritarian country, a single political party controls the entire government, allowing it to push projects through and spend money as it pleases, sometimes in a brutally efficient way.
But while China, India’s continental rival, may have leapt ahead in its rate of completion of a mega-network of highways, it has yet to face the inevitable reckoning of a messy transition to democracy.
With a people who are much freer, on this front, the Indians are miles ahead of the Chinese. Now, they just need to build themselves enough open road so their economy can hit top speed.