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Shahjahan's Taj Mahal got a bit closer to Delhi on Thursday, with the Rs 12,000-crore Yamuna Expressway being thrown open to public on Thursday.
At the inaugural ceremony, some complained about the high toll rates and some about land acquisition, but the management of Jaypee Infratech, which built it and will operate it, tried to assuage the critics by promising a free ride on the 165-km concrete stretch till Independence Day next week.
Once the free run is over, a ride comes at Rs 150 for two-wheelers, Rs 320 for cars and Rs 1,050 for trucks and buses. Some farmers want toll-free access, while some want their plots of land given for it to be returned, as they do not accept the compensation being offered by the company.
The project, revived by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati in 2007, connects Noida with Agra, covering five districts in the state.
It is expected to reduce travel time between Delhi and Agra by 90 minutes, to just a two-hour drive. The management has limited the speed for lightweight motor vehicles to 100 km/hr, with strict surveillance. This reverberated in Lucknow, where Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav inaugurated the project through video-conference. He requested commuters not to exceed the speed limit though his party's Member of Parliament Ram Gopal Yadav, felt that the expressway should permit a speed of 120 km/hr.
The promoters, who were seen to be close to the Mayawati government, were reprimanded by the new UP chief minister for incomplete service lane, adjacent to the expressway and lack of development of adjacent villages.
As if in consolation, the project developer announced that setting up of four 100-bed hospitals, English medium schools and vocational training institutes at different locations near the expressway, that too in one and a half months.
Ram Gopal Yadav too asked the developers to provide parallel service roads to the adjoining villages so that the villagers have toll free access from one village to another through the service roads. Officials of Jaypee Infratech later informed reporters that out of 56 km of service lane provided in the detailed project report, 28 km have been completed, Yadav also said that no land acquisition would be done without the consent of farmers and cases lodged against them during the previous government would be withdrawn.
With the expressway done, UP wants to embark on another high-profile project. Industrial development commissioner A K Gupta said efforts are being made to construct a 365 kms long greenfield expressway between Agra and Lucknow.