Roads: The road transport sector needs an independent policy to cover maintenance and other aspects, Department of Roads (DoR) director Karma Galay said at a daylong seminar on road construction, yesterday.

There is no separate or independent policy document for the road sector in Bhutan at present. The sector is guided, in parts, by policy documents such as Vision 2020, Road Master Plan (2007-2017), Bhutan Transport – 2040: Integrated Strategic Vision, Five Year Plan documents and the Road Act 2013.

Karma Galay said that road maintenance was equally or if not more important than constructing them. “A overall policy for the road sector could cover them,” he said.

He added that the policy should be based on scientific studies such as motorisation trends, projected economic growth, environmental considerations, regional connectivity, and rural-urban migration trends, among others.

Project DANTAK chief engineer, KC Panchanathan agreed that the government should also look in to maintaining proper funds for road maintenance and for the funds to be reviewed annually considering the escalating prices of raw materials. “Because we can’t maintain the roads now at the scale fixed five years ago,” he said.

The chief engineer said one of the primary challenges of constructing and maintaining roads in the country is the limited work time because of the  harsh monsoon and winter seasons.

“The road users have become more discerning so we have to build roads that they can drive in top gear, for which we can’t cling on to the conventional ideas but imbibe new technology and take bold risks,” the chief engineer said.

He said both the ministry and DANTAK have come under scrutiny for cost and time overruns especially for work carried out in the 10th Plan, which are still incomplete.

He said the National Environment Commission delegating environment clearance to the roads department was commendable which can be followed in India too.

Bitumen and high-speed diesel prices, which are highly volatile, also impinge the progress of the works.

“We also work under intense glare of media scrutiny,” he said.

The chief engineer added for expected progress to be realised increasing equipment to project cost ratio is needed.

“Both project DANTAK as well as Construction Development Corporation Ltd are severely hampered by lack of equipment and even if we have the equipment the problem is of its weightage,” he said. “CDCL should pick up more resources for their own requirement as well as for the Project DANTAK,” he said.

Karma Galay said that the country has achieved immense success in construction of roads and connecting rural areas as 50 percent of the present network is farm roads.

The country’s road network that had only 1,500km in the mid 1970s had stretched to about 10,878km as of 2014.

The roads director said road construction gained momentum from 2007. In the 10th Plan, from 2008-2013, the road length has increased by about 870km (19 percent) every year.

This composed of the 6.2km expressway, 2,538.38km of national highways, 1,178.29km of dzongkhag roads, 349.67km of thromde roads, 5,575.29km of farm roads, and 1,230.43km of access roads. It is estimated that a kilometre of road currently serves 69 people.

Changes in priorities have occurred like construction of road tunnels, viaducts and construction of certain road stretches on the southern-East-West Highway due to changing priorities of the country.

Project DANTAK at present maintains the highways between Thimphu- Phuentsholing, Paro and Haa in the western part of the country and the Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway in the east.

Director Karma Galay also said that the country has experienced rapid motorisation in the past few years.

“In the past decade, the vehicle ownership has increased by 137 percent – from 29,941 in 2005 to 70,805 as of February this year,” he said.

The vehicle per 1000 population in the country has increased from about 45 in 2005 to about 100 in 2014. Bhutan has the highest vehicle ownership among the SARRC countries.

The vehicle ownership in Asia is typically in the range of 10 to 30 for every 1000 people, and between 600 and 800 in advanced countries.

According to the Bhutan Transport 2040 developed by the Asian Development Bank, the motorisation per 1000 is expected touch 400 by 2040, which is very high, he said.

DANTAK chief engineer KC Panchanathan said that with the renewed focus on boosting tourism, the roads have to be built with proper roadside amenities at regular intervals so that travel along the roads would be more comfortable.

Some 80 engineers from the roads department , Project DANTAK and Border Roads Organisation attended the seminar at the Royal Institute of Management.

The seminar, organised by Project DANTAK and the roads department, is the fifth one to be held in the country.

By Tshering Palden