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Vol. XXXIII No. 6, July 1-15, 2023

A Flyover Turns Fifty

-- by Karthik A. Bhatt

July 1, 2023 marks fifty years of the inauguration of one of the city’s most identifiable landmarks, the Gemini Flyover. It was the first flyover to come up in the city (and the 3rd in the country) and was touted to be the largest of them all at the time of its construction. The English and Tamil versions of the July 1973 editions of the Tamilarasu magazine, the official organ of the Government brought out by the Department of Information and Public Relations carry interesting information about the project.

The need for measures to ease the traffic congestion in one of the busiest parts of the city was felt even in the early 1960s. In 1962, the Journal of the Indian Roads Congress carried recommendations made by the body, which included provision of traffic signals, improvement of roundabout islands and providing a traffic rotary and a flyover at the Gemini intersection. Writing in the Civic Affairs magazine on ‘Traffic Safety in Madras City’ in 1965, M. Singaravelu, the Commissioner of Police stated that the installation of automatic signals was not adequate and recommended the construction of a flyover at the intersection.

Picture of the Flyover from The Hindu dated July 1, 1973.

A study in the late 1960s revealed that around 9,000 vehicles passed through the intersection during peak hours. The signal system that had been put up helped in regulation of traffic to a certain extent, but at the cost of considerable holdup. It became imperative to devise means to provide for continuous flow of traffic and hence, after a long thought-out study of several plans, the Government of Tamil Nadu approved the flyover project in 1969-70. The Civic Affairs magazine reported that the project was estimated to cost around Rs 75 Lakhs and that it was included in the Fourth Plan of the government. M/s East Coast Construction and Industries, of the Buhari Group were awarded the contract for the planning, design and execution of the project.

A tableau depicting the proposed flyover at Gemini, in the Republic Day Pageant of 1971.

The main wing of the flyover, which ran from north to south comprised four lanes, 48 feet wide and 1,599 feet in length. An access ramp 24 feet in width was provided on GN Chetty Road. It is interesting to note that the clover leaf shaped elliptical path (this would be a forerunner of sorts to the design of the Kathipara flyover in the 2000s) was adopted to provide passage for vehicles coming from Mount Road to GN Chetty road. Service roads were laid on the four corners of the junction to cater to the needs of these vehicles. In addition, a central rotor of a diameter of 150’ was put up at the junction, providing a two-lane roadway around in order to accommodate the straight traffic on both sides of the Nungambakkam High Road and Cathedral Road. The adoption of a hollow beam perforated deck for a road-bridge was the first of its kind in India. The flyover was intended solely for fast moving vehicles, with all other vehicles to use only the ground level roads.

The work was programmed to be carried out in three stages viz., the western half of the main flyover and access ramp on GN Chetty Road, the portion south of the junction in the eastern half and the clover-leaf and the balance of the eastern half of the main flyover. The design and planning of the entire scheme were done to facilitate the construction and the phasing of the work in such a way so as to help the movement of traffic without any undue and long diversion from the junction. This resulted in savings of around Rs 4 to 5 Lakhs, which would have otherwise been spent on the improvement and maintenance of long diversion routes.

The concrete used for the entire construction was of special grade, with the cement (Arasu brand) being supplied by M/s TANCEM (Tamil Nadu Cements Corporation Limited). Work on the flyover began on September 1, 1971 and proceeded at feverish pace. The Civic Affairs magazine quoting a report from The Hindu in October 1972 stated that the concrete structure was to be completed before the end of that year, barely 15 months since work started. The project was finally complete by mid-1973. In all, 901 metric tonnes of steel and 3765 metric tonnes of cement went into the making of the flyover. The entire project was finished at a cost of Rs 66 Lakhs and in a span of 21 months, which was three months quicker than the estimated deadline.

Stirring a Hornet’s Nest

The public function to inaugurate the flyover seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest regarding a few issues, going by a report in the July 15, 1973 issue of the Kalki magazine. Na. Parthasarathy (writing under the pen name Theeran) in his column ‘Tamizh Naatile…’ noted that there were murmurs of the Mayor of Chennai not being accorded respect due to him. The announcement made by the Chief Minister regarding the renaming of six bridges in the city viz., Marmalong, Adyar, Willingdon, Hamilton, Wallajah and Munro also came in for criticism as being inappropriate on the grounds that proper procedure in the form of obtaining the consent of the Corporation was not followed. Perhaps the most important of the writer’s observations concerned the renaming process itself. He states that the history attached to names of the important roads and bridges couldn’t be wished away, irrespective of whether or not they had pleasant or unpleasant memories associated with them, and that changing them on the grounds of either lack of awareness or the fact that the history behind them was not to one’s liking was not acceptable.

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