Thrissur: Ending a long wait, one section of the Kuthiran road tunnel on the National Highway in the district was abruptly opened to everyone’s surprise on Saturday evening. The left tunnel towards the Thrissur side was thrown open to traffic without a formal inaugural ceremony by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) around 5pm based on the instructions of Union Minister for Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari. While vehicles were earlier trapped in traffic blocks lasting several hours in the Kuthiran hill, they can now cover the distance in less than one minute through the tunnel underneath.
It was Gadkari himself who announced the opening through a tweet. With vehicles being allowed along one section of the double barrel tunnel, there will be a considerable saving of travel time on the Coimbatore-Kochi route.
A few days ago, NHAI’s project director in Palakkad had communicated to the regional director that work on one among the two Kuthiran tunnels had been completed. Soon, inspections by various state government departments were completed and the state’s Minister for Public Works P A Muhammed Riyas had announced that the tunnel would be opened either on August 1 or later in the month. The construction firm also had announced that work on a tunnel was over.
The report from NHAI’s regional office on the completion was forwarded to the Centre and the final approval was to be given by Gadkari. Even though the clearance was expected only during the first week of August, the Union Minister made the surprise announcement on Twitter on July 31 itself.
"The road will improve connectivity to important ports and towns in North-South Corridor without endangering wildlife," Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari tweeted.
An official inauguration is planned after the second tunnel is also ready.
Vehicles are now passing smoothly to the Thrissur side along the tunnel. However, there are concerns regarding landslips at the mouth of the tunnel during heavy rains. Moreover, the NHAI’s report suggests that a 570-m section inside the tunnel should be strengthened with steel panels and concrete. Measures are also needed to prevent seepage of water from the hill above, it adds.
In fact, concreting of the upper part of the entire tunnel has not been completed even though vehicles are allowed. Authorities said that after the second tunnel is ready, vehicles would be diverted to that tunnel and concreting of the tunnel that is open now would be finished.
A one-minute trip
Travellers along the route were desperately waiting for the opening of the Kuthiran tunnel for years. Now, the 964-m tunnel could be covered in less than a minute by travelling at 60 kmph. Earlier, traffic jams were a common feature on the road skirting the Kuthiran hill which lasted several hours. Facilities inside the tunnel include 500 lights, ten cameras, blowers to remove foul air, wireless phones at five spots, fire-fighting equipment at 10 places and 24-hour control room.
Toll, other issues
Meanwhile, Kerala’s Revenue Minister K Rajan said that toll collection would not be allowed after the opening of only one section of the tunnel.
Works Minister Riyas reacted saying opening the tunnel was important and there was no issue of taking its credit. “The state government did not receive any official communication from the Centre on the opening. The NHAI authorities had only informed the Thrissur Collector of the matter,” he said.
“However, the state is not interested in entering into a confrontation with the Centre on the matter. The second tunnel too will be opened in a time-bound manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, it is pointed out that a political game of one-upmanship between BJP, which is in power at the Centre, and CPM, which is ruling the state, had led to the abrupt opening of the tunnel.