"You know what would make good television," says Halcrow communications manager Garry Whitaker to his colleague who is weaving the company four by four through heavy traffic.
The driver, Halcrow's managing director for Asia David Birch, drags his attention away from a camel waiting beside him in the queue at a particularly congested junction and raises his eyebrows to request the answer.
"Get Top Gear to do one of its supercar trips through New Delhi, with the proviso that the Bugatti Veyron has to get to the finish without a scratch." Both men collapse with laughter.
Driving in New Delhi as they know, is not for the competitive, unless you count the 90 second long "stop" traffic lights when a 'five, four, three, two, one, Go!" countdown turns everyone into a grand prix driver on the green light.
Nor is it for the irritable. Congestion is the norm. And there is a marvellous mix of pedestrians, bicycles, rickshaws of various types, buses, donkeys and cars sharing the same road space, all oblivious to the optimistically painted lane lines.But it works. The traffic moves in unconscious unison, snaking round people, dogs (usually sleeping) and serene looking cows.
Hooting, while constant from anything motorised, is reserved for telling other road users that you are beside them, behind them or about to cut sharply in on them - from the right or the left. But the next few years could see a transformation in transport around Delhi. Both public and private sector is investing billions, with money pouring into metro lines, guided bus routes, slick elevated toll roads and perimeter highways. Delhi is on a mission to transform its transport experience by 2010 when international athletes, officials, spectators and tourists will descend on the capital for the Commonwealth Games.There's a lot to do, but no one admits to any doubt that the deadlines will be met.
First up is the Delhi to Gurgaon expressway, an upgrade of national highway route 8 (NH8), opened late last month. In fact, so enthusiastic are the city's drivers to get onto this, fast, mostly elevated highway, that they were storming the barricades to use it before it was ready.
Gurgaon is a truly vast addition to greater Delhi. Streets and streets of modern, high-rise buildings stretch as far as the eye can see and it is home to many of the new businesses springing up as the Indian economy booms.
Gurgaon in the south west and its sister "suburb" of Noida in the east are helping to expand Delhi's population from 13M to 20M and most of the extra 7M seem to want to drive in and out of the centre on an hourly basis.
Noida already has a tolled 7.5km expressway and bridge over the Yamuna river which help to ease the queues of traffic. Forty minutes travel time and 6km have been shaved off each trip with the £52M route.
The scheme was the brainchild of Indian investment bank Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services which decided to cut through the bureaucracy that was slowing road investment with this, the first public private partnership road project in India.
The 90,000 vehicles a day currently going through the toll booths are about to be increased by a further 11,000 with the imminent opening of a Halcrow designed £3.5M link road to the expanding Noida suburb of Miyur Vihar.
"And we have plans for more investment in new routes that will add another 17,000 vehicles a day to traffic projections" says the expressway's chief general manager for IL&FS Colonel D S Yadav.Meanwhile, the route to Gurgaon is so congested it can take two to three hours to travel the 28km thanks to the 100,000 vehicles a day that make the journey. That is forecast to drop to just 20 minutes when the new expressway opens.
The Delhi-Gurgaon expressway is crucial to Delhi's ambitions for the Commonwealth Games. The road will create a vital, uninterrupted, route to and from the airport which is getting a new runway and an updated terminal in time for the 2010 event.
The success of the IL&FS PPP scheme at Noida has encouraged other big infrastructure players to pile into private finance to such a degree that Government transport investment is now mainly focused on public transport with national highway expansion and widening in the hands of the private sector.
Delhi-Gurgaon is no exception. One of India's leading contractors – the £1.5bn turnover DS Constructions (DSC) group – picked up the challenge and from 2003, working under a build-operate-transfer deal, erected the eight lane super route, half of which is on a swooping, elevated, precast concrete flyover.
Independent designer for the £87M link is a consortium of Sheladia, RITES and Halcrow.
The PPP deal is for a 20 year concession with DSC paying the government £7.5M in the form of a negative grant for the rights for the scheme because the payback – even with just a 10 rupee toll (1p), is expected to be so positive.
"Expected traffic growth at design was 7% per annum but the projections are already at 15%" says Halcrow chief engineer Rakesh Sharma.
Next up for DS Constructions with Halcrow as one of its designers, is Delhi's own M25. The 136km Kundli-Manesar-Palwal expressway, also known as the western peripheral route' connects India's four busiest national highways – the NH 1, the NH10, the NH8 and the NH2.The £250M PPP is a greenfield project but it has challenges of land acquisition, the fact that there are 64 villages within 500m of the trace, plus numerous rail and canal crossings to negotiate. Work is underway but it is early days. Even so the plan is to complete by the 2010
Games. Can it be done? "Yes; of course," says DS Constructions corporate communications manager Nitin Yadav.
In almost complete contrast, another scheme that is currently gripping the imagination of the Delhi public is the Ambedkar Nagar to Delhi Gate high capacity guided bus system.
In a city in love with cars there is a touch of hostility to a project that is seen to be eating up the limited road space even though the majority of the population still relies on public transport to get around. But the team involved is adamant that the £25M project will improve travel for everyone.
"It is such a new concept here that people are very uncomfortable with it," says Professor Gitam Tiwari of the Indian Institute of Technology, the woman who developed the concept and technical specification for Delhi's first route. "We are learning to say that we are developing an exclusive car corridor in order to help sell the project!"
The concept is based on the fact that the muddled use of Delhi's road space is good for no one. "We proved it. We showed people a Google Earth image of our route with bottlenecks where buses stop and bunched up bicycles and you can see there is spare space if it is properly organised."
The plan for the 14km route is for the bus lanes to run down the centre with two lanes for cars on each carriageway, plus a lane each side for pedestrians, cyclists, cycle rickshaws and a service road for parking, deliveries, cows and other non motorised traffic.The whole carriageway is being repaved with all the different lanes clearly delineated by different surfacings and kerbs to guide the traffic.
"The bus lanes are in the middle because it means people only have to cross half the carriageway at any time to reach the bus stops – which are mostly near signal junctions. It means the traffic lights can have shorter signal cycles which will be beneficial for all road users but we have had long arguments with the traffic police to explain that," Professor Tiwari says.
There will be 200 to 300 buses an hour on the route. At peak they will be carrying 18,000 people an hour. "This is the equivalent to nine lanes of cars," Tiwari says.
Buses will travel at 25km an hour, not the current 15km; estimates for fuel saving are 28% because there will be less stop start, and there is expected to be a 33% reduction in pollution.
Tiwari and her team understand the vagaries of pedestrian behaviour in Delhi so the bus stops are designed with high fences behind them in an attempt to stop people dashing through traffic to get to the bus. Instead they are being guided to the crossings so they can reach the stops safely.
"Public transport means pedestrians," Tiwari explains. "You have to think how people get to the public transport service and where they go after they reach the destination stop."
A particularly nice aspect of the guided bus project is that the design has created space for Delhi's street life.
There are spots for the shoe shine men and bike repairers under the shade of trees; and bollards cum seats where people can sit and while awaytime. Altogether seven routes are scheduled, making a total 130km, all planned to be operational by - you've guessed it - 2010
"Our intention is to create urban rejuvenation," Tiwari says. The first section of route opens in March and could well be the best option for that Bugatti Veyron.HALCROW FOUNDATION
There are casualties of Delhi's expansion and its rush to modernise. There have been cases of farmers whose land has been purchased taking their new-found riches and gambling or drinking the money away.
To pre-empt this problem, the Halcrow Foundation Đ a charity set up by the UK consultant after the tsunami of 2004 - is working with the Navjoti Rural Development Project to promote social change by helping women in rural communities take more control of their own lives and the family finances by organising self help groups. "Purdah (the seclusion of women) and child marriage are common in the villages," says operations manager for the rural project Chandni Bedi. "The group gives them confidence to go outside and to the next village. You see them talking. In another village you would not see that." The foundation provides micro-credit to promote cottage industries like quilt making so the women can start earning their own money. One women said: "Now we can share our problems and try to solve them.
Taking the Metro above and below the streets
Delhi's Metro will have trebled in size by 2010. Another 120km of underground and elevated metro route is under construction, expanding the existing 65.1km of line north, south, east and west at a cost of Ł2.3bn.
Funding comes largely from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation. At Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jilendra Kumar, deputy station chief engineer for Delhi Metro Rail Corporation on the 6.3km extension north of line 2 to Jahangirpuri, is just finishing top down construction for a new station box measuring 28m by 309m by 15m deep. Only 1.8m of this extension is in tunnel. The majority of the route is elevated 12m above street level on precast 11-element spans launched via a 75m long launching girder. The contractor AFCONS is placing one span every four days on the section to Jahangirpuri and the job is going to complete ahead of schedule in October this year. All over Delhi the elevated sections of the metro are being driven down the centre of the city's streets and land values are soaring by up to four times as the route expands.