Editor’s note: (Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Receive news about destination openings, inspiration for future adventures, and the latest on aviation, food and drink, lodging, and other travel developments.)
(CNN) India has opened the first section of a 1,386-kilometer (861-mile) expressway linking its capital, New Delhi, with financial hub Mumbai, a significant milestone in the South Asian nation’s bid to modernize its infrastructure and catch up with neighboring rival China.
When completed, the eight-lane roadway – four in each direction – will be the longest in India and is expected to cut travel time between the two cities to 12 hours, cutting the total journey by half.
On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a 246-kilometer stretch of expressway linking Delhi to the city of Lalsot in northwestern Rajasthan state – a popular tourist destination that draws tens of thousands of travelers with its sprawling palaces and mountainous topography.
“Delhi Mumbai Expressway is one of the most advanced expressways in the world, which presents a great picture of India’s development,” Modi said during the opening ceremony, adding that its development will boost India’s economic growth and investment.
The Indian government earlier said it had invested about $13 billion in the project, which aims to provide a faster connection between the capital and five states: Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The first section alone cost $1.4 billion, according to a press release on Sunday.
The opening of the first section is a major boost for the world’s fifth-largest economy and what will soon be the most populous nation, even if India’s infrastructure lags far behind China’s.
In recent years, China has invested billions in ambitious infrastructure projects, including the world’s longest high-speed rail network and an extensive highway system.
In contrast, Indian trains are notoriously unreliable, and narrow, potholed roads severely impact travel time across the country.
One project aiming to improve the country’s railroads is the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor. The 1,506-kilometer (935-mile) line under construction will eventually connect the city of Dadri in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh with the Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra. It aims to relieve India’s railway network and increase the average speed of freight trains.
For Modi, who came to power in 2014 with a ticket of nationalism and a promise of future greatness, these projects can be viewed as a powerful tool for social inclusion and political influence, connecting disparate regions with key cities.
“The Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor will become two strong pillars of progress for Rajasthan and the country,” he said on Sunday. “We are creating a competent, capable and prosperous India.”
Above: Vehicles on a newly opened section of the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway in Dausa, Rajasthan on February 12, 2023. Photo via Getty Images.