Unlike the second week of January two years ago, police teams camped at the Pantangi toll plaza near Choutuppal and the Korlapahad toll plaza near Kethepally on NH-65 (Hyderabad-Vijayawada) are much relaxed now.
On January 13, 2019, natives heading to Andhra Pradesh for Sankranti were stranded in vehicles at Pantangi for several kilometres for at least two hours. Confusion whether the toll tax waiver, between January 13 and 16, announced by the Telangana government was applicable on national highways continued till situation turned chaotic, and the District Collector and the NHAI intervened.
A year later, though FASTag or electronic toll collection was tentatively introduced on ‘compulsory and deadline basis’, only about 50% of the vehicles got the radio frequency identification tags stickered. Sankranti journeys were still an unpleasant experience. But now, going by the pre-Sankranti scenes at toll plazas in undivided Nalgonda, and supporting official estimates, one can believe the serpentine queues and bumper-to-bumper toll traffic are history. Of the three toll plazas on national highways in the district, the Gudur gate on NH 163 (Hyderabad-Warangal) is not much affected by Sankranti. Officials say the plaza clocks about 32,000 vehicles a day and about 70% payments are by FASTag. But on a recent Sunday, only about 18,000 vehicles (55%) used FASTag.
GMR officials, the concessionaire of toll plazas on NH-65, at Pantangi, the busiest gate, Korlapahad near Suryapet and Chillakallu near Jaggayapeta, say increased FASTag compliance changed the experience for highway users and managers. “Traffic around Sankranti, starting from January 9, would be standing in one or two kilometres. But in the corresponding dates now, the traffic flow was smooth, and the maximum ‘cash lane’ queues do not exceed 200 metres. Around 85% of vehicles are with a FASTag,” K. Srikanth, GMR project manager, says. He, however, adds that more awareness is needed to tag the untagged, to make journeys hassle-free, save time and fuel.
Officials are also wary about vehicles that would be passing through the toll gates only for festivals, and hence FASTag compliance percentage might see a dip, meaning there could be chances of swelling traffic on a particular date or for a few hours. While FASTag exits take a minimum two-second reading, for manual transactions it is 10 seconds. Officials plan to rope in staff with hand-held devices and open all gates for ‘cash also’, if situation demands. Past figures show the maximum traffic, measured as passenger car unit per day, at Pantangi would be around 60,000 on January 13, a day before the festival, and the following week start after the festivities conclude.