With more than 12,204 kms of various roads in the country, Bhutan has enough roads, according to the chief engineer of the Department of Roads (DoR), Dorji Gyeltshen P.

“It is now time to shift from construction to maintenance of roads so that the roads are sustainable,” he said. “We need to improve the quality of the existing roads.”

The chief engineer, while presenting on road maintenance strategy during the eighth engineers’, architects’ and planners’ conference yesterday, said that maintenance has become a challenge, mainly because of budget constraints and lack of capacity.

He said that the conventional method of maintenance is getting obsolete with increasing traffic and it is time that new method of maintenance is explored to sustain the built infrastructure.

Dorji Gyeltshen P recommended strengthening of the present road maintenance management system and pilot road maintenance centre and allow performance-based or hybrid contract or maintenance of roads.

The performance-based contract, he said, meant paying fixed monthly payment if contractors comply with the performance standards and hybrid meant a mixture of performance-based contract and unit price contract, where payments are based on the quantity of work completed.

He said that without adequate and timely maintenance, road conditions deteriorate leading to higher vehicle operation costs, increased number of accidents, environment impact and increased travel time costs. “Road conditions deteriorate because of traffic and weather.”

The chief engineer said studies show that there is an exponential increase in road maintenance when it is left unmaintained.

Dorji Gyelthsen P said DoRs maintain roads by the labour force, hybrid routine maintenance contract and community maintenance contract as of today.

“The way forward is to have road maintenance centre within the jurisdiction of 150km to 200km, which will have healthcare facilities, schools, child care centres, sports facilities and cooperative store,” he said. “Today, our labourers are stationed in places where there are no basic amenities like education and medical facilities.”

He said that contracting out road maintenance saves money and studies conducted by the World Bank show that it saves money by almost 30 to 50 percent of the maintenance budget.

The chief engineer claimed road maintenance in the country face inadequate funding. “In the 10th Plan, DoR needed the budget to resurface about 1000kms of the road but at the end of the plan, we could only execute half of the required work,” he said.

The officiating director of DoR, Lungten Jamtsho, said the DoR face labour shortage since labourers get paid more as day workers. “We only have women and differently-abled labourers now.”

Dorji Gyelthsen P also claimed there is a lack of commitment at different levels for road maintenance and lack of maintenance management system.

The chief engineer said that DoR has adopted a road maintenance management system, which is in data collection phase. “We are now filming the conditions of the road. Once it is complete, we will transfer the data to a spread sheet, which will classify the road into five categories based on the road conditions,” he said. Then the data will be analysed, either in excel or GIS.”

He said they would then generate the output, where there will be an entire road network, waypoints and water-bound areas. “We can also have roads where the width of pavement is less than 5mts.”

The chief engineer said that the data would be used to plan budget and investment, where prioritisation of routes would be done. “We will spend more on those routes which are likely to contribute greatest to economic growth and improved quality of life and spend less on reactive works and more on structural and planned maintenance.”

Works and human settlement secretary Phuntsho Wangdi, said that it is time to improve the quality of the road network. “In the 12th Plan, we will focus on consolidating the existing roads and not on expansion.”

He said huge investment made on road and bridges has to be sustained through effective strategies. “I would like to suggest DoR to first collect data and digitise the road categorically so that we know what kind of road we have by the end of this year.”

Tashi Dema