The Coimbatore Bypass was the first road project to be implemented in South India on BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. The project was a pioneering initiative, which incorporated private sector participation and levy of toll on users to ensure sustainability in the long run. The road ran between Neelambur on the Salem side of NH-47 Tamilnadu and in Kerala , Madukkarai on the Palghat side.
The project involved construction of a 28-km long two-lane bypass road, the 32.2m new Athupalam bridge across the river Noyal, the railway overbridge at Chettipalayam Tamilnadu and the maintenance of the old bridge at Athupalam, all in the state of Tamilnadu. Larsen & Toubro (L&T) was authorized to collect and retain the fee from users of the new and old Athupalam bridges. The bypass was expected to ease the traffic congestion in Coimbatore city, Tamilnadu and the Salem-Cochin national highway running between Tamilnadu and Kerala. The shippers, mostly export oriented units relying on the Cochin port for shipments, were other major beneficiaries as transportation time could be saved using the new road.
Construction was started in January 1998 and completed in 22 months time. The Athupalam bridge was opened for traffic in December 1998 and the bypass became operative from January19, 2000. The project cost was about Rs.1.04 bn. The project concession period was for 12 years, and was expected to set a precedent for assessment of traffic risk patterns in the country for toll-based roads.
However, the project ran into problems when users refused to pay the toll for the old Athupalam bridge. They argued that the old bridge was already in existence. As for the bypass and the new Athupalam bridge, they felt that the toll rates were on the higher side. They also complained that L&T had not taken them into confidence before coming out with the toll rates.
FINANCING OF THE PROJECT
In the 1970s, the Tamilnadu government planned the Coimbatore bypass road to ease the traffic congestion in Coimbatore and the NH-47 between Salem and Cochin. However, due to paucity of funds, the project had to be dropped.
In 1995, the Government of India (GoI) liberalized its policies and opened up the road sector for private investments. In September 1995, the GoI through its Ministry of Surface Transport (MoST) invited tenders from the private sector to finance and implement the construction, operation and maintenance of the Coimbatore bypass road project on BOT (build, operate and transfer) scheme. As the project was not viable on its own, the GoI after studying the various options, widened the scope by including the construction of an additional two-lane bridge on river Noyal on the NH-47.
FINANCING OF THE PROJECT contd...
A concession agreement for the integrated project of bypass and a bridge at Athupalam on NH-47 was signed on October 3, 1997 between the MoST, the government of Tamilnadu and L&T. L&T set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) - L&T Transportation Infrastructure Ltd. (LTTIL), to implement the project. L&T held 100% equity in LTTIL. LTTIL implemented the project on BOT basis, with the revenue accruing directly to it.
The project was constructed by L&T-ECC (Engineering Construction Corporation) group, the largest construction organization in India. L&T-Ramboll Consulting Engineers, a joint venture between L&T and Ramboll of Denmark, was employed for quality control supervision and review of the critical pavement design.
The project was financed by share capital of Rs 416 mn and term loan of Rs 620 mn, with a debt-equity ratio of 1.5:1. As per the agreement with the Tamilnadu government, L&T had to hold a minimum equity of 26% at the end of 30 years.
The debt financing was done by State Bank of India (SBI), L&T Finance, Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), and Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI). IDBI had sanctioned Rs.300 mn for the project in the form of infrastructure bonds. The loan was given in two tranches of Rs.150 mn each at 15% interest each. Principal repayment was to begin from the eighth year onwards.
SBI loaned Rs.300 mn to the project. Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) had structured a "liquidity support" arrangement to help SBI in emergency situation. This support enabled SBI to approach IDFC for refinancing in case it failed to raise the money from other sources. For IDFC, liquidity support was different from the take-out financing since it was lending on condition that the bank was unable to raise the money. Moreover, IDFC would not take the project risk even if it lends to the bank. IDFC would only be carrying the bank risk as it had given the money to the bank and not the SPV.
L&T pointed out that the project helped vehicles save fuel and vehicle operating costs due to reduction of distance by 2.5 km and free flow traffic, besides time. Other benefits to the bypass users included less pollution, pleasant drive, good wayside amenities and lastly, safety.