Mumbai, Sep 13: The collapse of a British-era bridge at Mahad in Maharashtra last month could have been avoided had land acquisition and green clearances for an alternative structure been secured in time, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said today. “If land acquisition and environmental clearances had come in time, a new bridge would already have been constructed (over river Savitri),” he said at the Lokmat Infra Conclave here. The Union Road Transport Minister, who had owned up responsibility for the August 2 tragedy, rued people are dying on the Mumbai-Goa National Highway due to troubles with land acquisition, environmental clearances and shifting of encroachers.Also Read - How Fuel Prices Can Be Slashed Further? Nitin Gadkari Suggests This Idea, Says 'Petrol, Diesel Taxes Can Go Down If...'

“The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, is concerned about this, I am also very concerned. But what can we do?” he said. Gadkari said his ministry has prepared a Rs 12,000 crore plan for four-laning the busy highway and announced that full concrete road will be completed by 2018. As many as 26 people were killed when a part of the over a century-old bridge on Savitri river near the town of Mahad handling north-bound traffic collapsed last month. (ALSO READ: Devendra Fadnavis, Nitin Gadkari lay foundation stone of Patanjali Food Park) Also Read - Nawab Malik Drops 'Hydrogen Bomb' on Devendra Fadnavis: 'Ex-CM Allowed Underworld to Flourish in Mumbai, Protected Fake Currency Racket'

At least two state transport buses and a multi-utility vehicle plunged into the river, which was swollen due to torrential rains. Noting that there has been a four per cent rise in deaths on roads over the last two years, he said the government’s top priority is to bring down such accidents. Having identified faults in road engineering as a major factor leading to accidents, Gadkari said a Rs 11,000 crore plan has been prepared to improve the roads at 786 specially identified spots across the country. He said the government is targeting to reduce accidental deaths on roads by 50 per cent before its term comes to an end in May 2019. The Lok Sabha MP from Nagpur said Maharashtra will receive special attention as part of the highway expansion and safety upgradation. Also Read - 'Will Drop Hydrogen Bomb Tomorrow 10 AM to Expose Fadnavis' Underworld Connection': Nawab Malik Reacts to Link With Dawood Ibrahim

Maharashtra has 22,000 km of the overall 1.70 lakh km of National Highways, Gadkari said, announcing a plan to upgrade the Dehu-Pandharpur and Alandi-Pandharpur roads to four-lane concrete roads. It can be noted that Pandharpur in Solapur district in western Maharashtra is an important centre of pilgrimage and Gadkari said the roads will also help the warkaris (devotees of Lord Vitthal) who converge in the town every monsoon.

The minister announced that work on the over 320 km Vadodara-Mumbai express highway, which will be constructed at a cost of over Rs 42,000 crore, will commence from January 1 next year. He said the total investment in road infrastructure in Maharashtra will exceed his previously announced target of Rs 2 trillion during the NDA rule, and can go up to Rs 3 trillion. Gadkari said there is a potential to have at least 500 ‘bus-ports’ (having same modern facilities as those available at airports) in Maharashtra alone, and suggested an equal joint venture between the Centre and the State Government as one of the ways of working on this project.