The Kemp’s Corner Flyover Is 50 Years Old
The one achievement the BJP and Shiv Sena never tire of crowing about is the number of flyovers they commissioned in Mumbai between 1995 and 1999, when they ruled Maharashtra. The partnership had nearly 40 flyovers built across the city, a trend that was carried forward by successive state governments. However the first flyover in the city was the handiwork, not of any political party, but the BMC. The civic body commissioned the Kemp’s Corner flyover aka the Dr. Gopalrao Deshmukh Uddanpul 50 years ago, in 1964.
The flyover was deemed necessary as the area suffered major traffic jams – it lay at the intersection of five roads: August Kranti Marg, Pedder Road, Hughes Road, Altamount Road and Ridge Road. Shirish Patel, now a well-known architect and structural engineer, won the bid to build the flyover. It was a challenge right from the start. Patel said that the BMC had assured him that there was hard rock at both ends of the road. “So we designed the bridge as an arch,” he said. While they hit hard rock at the northern end, there was no rock to be found at the southern end of the road even at 25 feet. Patel found out from a BMC engineer that Hughes Road was a quarry in the 19th century. “The stone that’s been used in buildings in Gamdevi came from the quarry on Hughes Road,” Patel said. “We had hit a quarry site where rock had been cut deep.” As a result the design for the bridge had to be changed. Yet the flyover, which cost Rs17.5 lakh, was completed in six months by April 1965 – a time span that’s remarkable by today’s standards. “A bridge needs bearings below,” Patel said. “Usually these are made of cast iron. The delivery time of cast iron was 18 months. We couldn’t wait so long so we designed it using concrete hinges.”
Today the arterial flyover is jammed with traffic during peak hours. But when it was completed, the bridge immediately decongested traffic in the area, said Vijay Trilokekar, a resident of Pan Gully off Hughes Road, who was 17 when the flyover was being built. Trilokekar recalls seeing engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay testing the flyover by running large trailer trucks filled with cement bags on the road. He also recalls a pharmacy called Kemp and Company that occupied a spot near where the flyover stands. An “old British style building”, Kemp was one of the few places, he said, that refilled soda dispensers people kept at home.
Mehernosh Khajotia, the owner of Breach Candy confectionary Celebrations, said that his late aunt, Mani Kharas, lived in a bungalow that was razed to make way for the flyover. Across the spot on which the house stood is the beauty parlour Manize, named after Kharas, he said. The space was given to Kharas by way of compensation and the parlour continues to be run by a member of the family. “We love the flyover,” said Trilokekar, who supports the state government’s plan to build the Pedder Road flyover but is against the proposed demolition of the Kemp’s Corner flyover. “It’s very solid and the design is very strong.”