It's rush hour. The Balkhu junction on the Ring Road, southeast of Kalanki, is as congested as all the other Valley intersections at this time. But the Balkhu Bridge could breathe a little easier Ė if only cars heading towards Thapathali steered their wheels to the right, to take the 'link' road that runs along the Bagmati River.
Kathmandu's chaotic traffic needs no introduction. Journeys across the city now have to be measured in hours, not minutes. There are approximately 444,000 vehicles registered in Bagmati Zone and the capacities of the roads have long since reached saturation. Traffic is often at a standstill, with significant costs in terms of lost time, needless wastage of fuel, and pollution.It's difficult to put a number on the economic cost caused by traffic jams.
"The number of vehicles in Kathmandu increased by over 100,000 last year, while the roads have hardly been extended," says Binod Singh, Chief of Kathmandu Traffic Police. The unplanned development of the valley makes it difficult and expensive to widen existing roads.
But Devendra Dongol, Senior Planner at the Urban Development Department, asserts that building link roads is the most viable option available. "Houses have not yet been built near the rivers' banks, which makes land acquisition relatively easier and less expensive," he says. Dhanapati Sapkota, Head of the Enforcement Division at the Kathmandu Metropolitan, adds that link roads also help in river management and contribute to the development of the area. There is also the possibility of planting green belts along such roads. At present, private construction has been restricted along the banks of various rivers and streams in the Kathmandu Valley, and the objective is to eventually complete a network of link roads.
Not all projects have been as lucky as the Bishnumati corridor in terms of funds. The absence of coordination between responsible departments has also led to delays in implementation. Binod Khadka, Community Liaison Officer of the Dhobi Khola Project, says, "This project received approval in 2003 but actual work started only three years ago when it reached the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Committee". When completed, a surfaced road will connect Chabahil to the Bagmati Bridge at the end of New Baneswor. "Insufficient funding is now holding up the project. We are hoping that this year's budget will grant the requested capital."
Clearly, link roads offer an alternative and logical way of extending the length of the valley's roads while providing 'short cuts' across the different routes. There is potential to build such links at Hanumante (Bhaktapur), Mahadev (Balaju), Kodku (Lalitpur), Nakhu, Karkhusi andTukucha, and extend the existing connections. The recent confirmation of $22 million dollars worth of aid from ADB for traffic management will assist the further development of link roads.
Simply creating a network of link roads will not be enough, however. "The intersections have to be remodelled to let vehicles from the link roads join the main road smoothly," argues Anand Joshy, a senior traffic volunteer. "Otherwise link roads will just add to the blockage at the junctions on the core roads."