Investing now to save later

While on the one hand, the government is talking about building a top-quality East-West highway that will make Bhutanese proud, some gewog connectivity roads are disintegrating even before blacktopping work is completed.

The Prime Minister himself has now twice in the recent past conducted inspections of the East-West highway. The thickness of the blacktop was measured and found to even exceed the specifications required. The expectation is for the highway, once completed, to last many years.

But some of our gewog connectivity roads, which are currently being blacktopped, are forming ruts and potholes even before the contractor gets to the end of the road.

The most recent case in point is the Tang gewog connectivity road.

The reasoning is that heavy vehicles shouldn’t be using these roads, which means the blacktop is designed to be thick enough only to hold medium- and small-sized vehicles.

But as some pointed out, residents of Tang also depend on heavy vehicles to transport their cash crops.

There is no argument against the intention of blacktopping all the gewog connectivity roads. It has been pledged and will be carried out. There will be benefits such as decrease in fuel usage and for those who hire vehicles, reduction in fares. We will also be spared bumpy rides when we travel to our villages.

But some of the roads are disintegrating soon after being completed. Some even before being completed. This all means extra costs.

There is a need for either more inspections or for the specifications to be adapted to local conditions.

If there is heavy-vehicle traffic in a gewog, or the possibility of such traffic given a future project, then the road standard could be upgraded. Investing big now may mean saving later.

We want to be proud of all our roads.

The problem is that the government is not keeping as much a close eye on the gewog blacktopping as it is on the East-West highway. Contractors have even been told that if they don’t meet the required quality, they will not be eligible for future government contracts.

Why can’t we do the same with the gewog connectivity roads?

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    Potholes and broken surfaces on our roads are not just a mere symbolic a thing of an underdeveloped economy, they also make it a horrible experience to drive on. We usually either rightfully blame the monsoon rains for the horrible conditions of our road surfaces or we raise a question mark at the quality maintained by the contractors. When damages usually become noticeable during a monsoon or just following a monsoon, the damages may actually also happen during the long dry season before the rains arrive. We usually tend to overlook that part.

    It’s the design and development of the original unpaved surface that needs some serious studies before we move to blacktopping. Many gravel roads in the older times of road development maintained a huge road ‘camber’ or ‘cross slope’ to drain rain water. One usually can’t expect same designs with our modern paved road surfaces using concrete mixture or asphalt concrete mixes. The suspension setup of our modern day vehicles are very different from the older times as they are more of typically on-road vehicles now.

    Even the road-rollers used in construction presents some unique challenges and narrower rural road surfaces will only make things even more challenging. Materials used in the surfacing has been extensively researched upon moving away from the traditional methods. From using crushed glasses to use of recycled construction and demolition wastes to trying out crushed clay brick concrete mixes; breakthrough innovations have been tried out.

    But a difference between the surface resistance in the sealing of the roads and that of rolling resistance of our vehicle tires will always exist. I personally haven’t spent much time in studying the suspension designs of today’s road-rollers. And we usually do pay attention to the suspension of our vehicles while they are just the lighter ones or the heavy duty commercial load carriers.

    It’s probably still a considerable civil engineering challenge to build a high quality unpaved road that’s going to last long without any surface topping or sealing. If effective results can be achieved there with unpaved roads, we can hope to invest now to save later.

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