Keeping our roads open

Monsoon has arrived. It has been more than generous with heavy rains since June 10. And like every monsoon, we are having the year’s share of woes. Roads are getting blocked or washed away. Landslides have become very common, reportedly on a daily basis.

However, most commuters would agree that there is a change, a change that should be appreciated and welcomed. Roadblocks this year are not hindering the traffic for long. With men and machinery placed at all critical places, blocks are cleared, temporary bridges are assembled and installed within a day if not in a few hours.   Road officials and volunteers in Trongsa constructed a 40-feet long bailey bridge within a day easing traffic on the east-west lateral highway.

With the border sealed since March, a priority of the government is to keep the national highways open. So far, besides small inconveniences, commuters are not stranded on the roads for more than a few hours. It seems like the era of serious monsoon uncertainties are behind us.

Located in the young Himalayas, our roads are prone to landslides, mudslides, and falling boulders and in some cases, heavy rain triggered flooding that washes away bridges or an entire stretch of the road. With the widening of the east-west highway, there are several areas that are freshly cut and therefore prone to slides. However, the days of transhipping people and goods and travellers getting struck between slides for days are gone.

Another positive change is the information disseminated through all platforms. While roadblocks during summer are inevitable, the information shared hourly through social media has helped people plan their journey. The road department’s Facebook page is the most updated page with images and videos of blocks or workers clearing them.  This is then shared to a wider audience.

There are many roads completed in the last few years. It used to be the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway with Sorchen and Jumbja as the weak point, but the amount of work has increased as more blocks have to be cleared. The Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway and the Gelephu-Trongsa highway have several notorious stretches that are prone to the slightest rainfall. However, it is good to see that men and machines are working round the clock to ensure the road is kept open for traffic.

What we can derive from this success is that our people can do the job if they have the right mentality, support and equipment. A bridge washed away would take a few days to ready a replacement. Today, not only are bridges and roads restored, we can watch, from the comforts of our home and office, what is being done at the block sites, including models of a bridge being assembled.

As a landlocked country, the highways are our lifeline. This has become more relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With import restricted, farmers across the country need to bring their produce to feed those in the towns. There are hundreds of people who have returned to farming after they lost their jobs. Soon, they would need markets for their produce. And very soon, cash crops like potatoes from Bumthang, Trashigang, Phobjikha would have to be transported to the border towns.

From the current experience, we can be confident that there will be no more roadblocks for days. It would be worth sparing a thought to the hundreds of engineers and workers out on the roads. Some of them work round the clock, in bad weather, and some are camped in unfriendly environments, to keep our roads open.

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