Overview of Road Infrastructure in India: A Journey towards Connectivity and Development


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December 15, 2022

Unleashing Potential: The Economic and Social Significance of India's Vast Road Network

Road infrastructure plays a significant role in the socioeconomic development of any nation, and India is no exception. Road networks are very helpful in the efficient mobility of resources from villages and towns, which thereby encourages the process of urbanization. As the seventh-largest country by land area and the second-most populous nation globally, India relies heavily on its road network.Road transport in India has also emerged as a dominant segment with a GDP share of 4.8%. This blog provides an overview of the road infrastructure in India, highlighting its significance, current state, challenges, and on going initiatives to enhance connectivity and foster economic growth.

Road network is the most crucial asset of a nation as they not only encourage economic activities but also robust the financial strength of any country. India’s road network is the backbone of its transportation system, facilitating domestic and international trade, connecting rural areas to urban centers, and enabling the mobility of its citizens. With over 5.5 million kilometers of road network,including Expressways, National highways, State highways, District roads, and rural roads, India boasts one of the world’s largest road networks.

The most crucial public resource is road infrastructure because it promotes trading and commerce activities between big cities, small towns, and villages. Good and well-maintained road infrastructure in India promotes economic activities by reducing transportation costs, improving access to markets, and enhancing regional integration. It also plays a vital role in agriculture, enabling the timely and efficient transportation of agricultural produce from rural areas to urban markets. Additionally, it provides essential connectivity for social services such as healthcare, education, and emergency services, improving the overall quality of life for citizens.

Indian Road Infrastructure

As per the MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) report of 2016-17, India’s road network comprises of 1.94% of National Highways, 2.97% of State Highway, District Road Constituting 9.94% of the network, Rural roads comprises 70.65% and Urban roads constituted 9.27% of total road infrastructure. The Central government is also very much intended to build a high class of roadway network in India named as Expressways. These are controlled-access highways where entrance and exits are controlled.

Types of Roads in India:

  1. Expressways- India has an extensive network of expressways that connect various cities and regions across the country. These are classified as the highest class of roads in India. India has a total length of 4067 Km of expressway network(as on March 2023) expanded across the country. Expressways are designed for a maximum speed of 120 km/hour.
  2. National Highways (NH) - National highways are the primary roads that connect different parts of the country. They are managed and maintained by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). National highways are typically four-lane or six-lane roads, and they have a speed limit of 80-100 km/hour.
  3. State Highways (SH) - State highways are the roads that connect different cities and towns within a state. They are managed and maintained by the respective state governments. State highways are typically two-lane or four-lane roads, and they have a speed limit of 60-80 km/hour.
  4. Major District Roads (MDR) - Major district roads connect the district headquarters to other places within the district. They are maintained by the respective district authorities. Major district roads are typically two-lane roads, and they have a speed limit of 40-50 km/hour.
  5. Other District Roads (ODR) - Other district roads connect smaller towns and villages to the major district roads. They are also maintained by the respective district authorities. Other district roads are typically single-lane or two-lane roads, and they have a speed limit of 30-40 km/hour.
  6. Village Roads - Village roads are the roads that connect villages to other places. They are maintained by the respective gram panchayats. Village roads are typically single-lane roads, and they have as peed limit of 20-30 km/hour.

Road classification is an important aspect of road infrastructure management. It helps in maintaining the roads, predicting maintenance requirements, and optimizing travel times. By understanding the different types of roads and their classifications, we can work towards improving road infrastructure in India.

Current State of Road Infrastructure in India

India has the second-largest road network in the world. This road network helps in the smooth mobilization of more than 60% of goods and almost 90% of India’s total passenger traffic uses the road network to commute. While India's road infrastructure has witnessed significant expansion and improvement over the years, there are still challenges to overcome. The existing road network faces issues such as congestion, inadequate maintenance, insufficient capacity, and safety concerns. The National Highways, which account for only 2% of the total road length, carry about 40% of the country's road traffic, leading to congestion and bottlenecks.

The government of India has been actively addressing these challenges through various initiatives. The Bharatmala Pariyojana, a flagship program launched in2017, aims to develop approximately 83,000 kilometers of national highways to improve connectivity and promote economic growth. The Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY) focuses on connecting rural areas by constructing all-weather roads, enhancing access to markets and social services.

Indian Government is also investing heavily in the construction of Expressways that are designed for high-speed, long-distance travel. These expressways are typically built to connect major cities and provide efficient transportation routes. Currently,India has more than 4000 kilometers of Expressway network spanning throughout the country. Some of the prominent expressways in India are Yamuna Expressway, Mumbai-Pune Expressway, etc.

Another notable development is the introduction of Intelligent Transportation Systems(ITS) in major cities to manage traffic flow, enhance road safety, and reduce travel time. Toll collection systems, electronic tolling, and the implementation of FASTag have improved efficiency and reduced congestion at toll plazas.

Challenges and Future Initiatives

India is leveraging creative inventions to execute the most complex road projects in a timely and eco-friendly manner, with the additional advantage of lower project lifecycle costs. Despite of all this, India's road infrastructure still faces several challenges.

Insufficient allocation for maintenance and expansion, bureaucratic hurdles, land acquisition issues, and coordination among various government agencies are some of the persistent challenges. Additionally, natural calamities and adverse weather conditions pose challenges to the upkeep of roads, especially in hilly regions.

The unavailability of skilled and trained manpower is also one of the major challenges faced by the road construction sector. The 2018 Turner and Townsend International Construction market survey reported that labor shortages are becoming an increasingly common feature of global construction. The quality of professional engineers employed by the NHAI in its various projects is also a big concern. India is currently facing an annual paucity of over 10 lakh project management professionals.

Road maintenance through visual inspection is also a challenging task for road development authorities. Manual inspections are very time-consuming and it also requires a huge amount of fund allocation specifically for the procurement of human resources.Considering these challenges in manual road inspection, there is an intense need for innovative and proactive solutions to bring efficiency in the methodology of road inspection by introducing Artificial Intelligence in it. The adoption of AI in the road construction industry should be seen as a positive development, and fruitful results can be achieved through training and re-skilling the existing workforce. AI will replace all tedious and time-consuming manual processes, allowing humans to work on more critical and high-valuetasks.  

The government has also taken several measures to overcome the challenges in road construction industry. It has increased the allocation of funds for infrastructure development, promoted public-private partnerships (PPPs), and streamlined the land acquisition process. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has taken the initiative for the skill development of manpower in the highway construction sector under Recognized Prior Learning (RPL) in projects of ₹100 cr. and above through authorized Training Providers in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, the use of innovative technologies,such as drone-based surveying and 3D modeling, is being explored to expedite project implementation and reduce costs.

The future of road infrastructure in India looks promising. The government's focus on sustainable and green infrastructure is evident through the promotion of electric mobility, the use of renewable energy sources, and the adoption of environmentally friendly construction practices. The introduction of new technologies, such as smart roads with embedded sensors, is being considered to monitor traffic conditions, optimize resource utilization, and enhance safety.