Road maintenance still a neglected area

| Updated: November 22, 2015 12:00:00

Road maintenance still a neglected area
It's dry season now. Usually the number of complaints about poor road conditions remains far less during this period of the year. The media too shun the attacking mood, which they usually demonstrate during the rainy season, because of the sufferings that the road users undergo particularly during the monsoon.
But the media are most likely to repeat their focus on poor road conditions during next rainy season since the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and other relevant agencies would not be able to attend the road and highways needing immediate repair. 
The lack of proper maintenance of existing roads and highways by all the relevant agencies, the RHD being the major player, has been a serious problem in the country since long. The agencies cite the government's reluctance to allocate sufficient funds as the sole reason for poor maintenance of roads and highways. 
The RHD says it is not being given even 25 per cent of the fund needed for regular maintenance of its own roads and highways. For instance, in the last financial year, it had sought Tk 78 billion for maintenance works. But in the national budget it had received only Tk 13.06 billion. 
With this amount, the RHD can hardly do justice even in the case of 20 per cent of roads needing major repair work. 
According to a recent report, nearly 26 per cent of national highways, 21 per cent of regional highways and 15 per cent of the district roads are now in good shape. About 38 per cent of the remaining roads and highways are in somewhat pliable conditions and the rest 42 per cent are either in a poor or unusable state. 
The quality of roads constructed by any public sector agency or local government bodies has been, traditionally, poor. Graft and grabbing of construction contracts by the politically influential people are largely responsible for poor quality construction of roads. It is generally believed that not more than 50 per cent of the fund allocated for a road construction project, big or small, is spent on actual construction and the rest is eaten up by the officials and contractors involved. 
Contractors do usually compromise with the quality of works. This, obviously, shortens the life of the roads, which in Bangladesh conditions is thought to be around 10 to 15 years. However, the roads can survive up to that period only if the agencies are conscious enough and have enough money to do their periodic maintenance faithfully.   
According to experts, a newly constructed road would need its first maintenance after two to three years. But it seems to be too long a time for Bangladesh roads. They usually require the first repair much earlier than that time. The agencies concerned, however, can hardly accomplish the maintenance work for want of sufficient funds. In most cases, they distribute the small funds received annually for maintenance work among too many roads. Such repair hardly lasts and the roads return to their original shape within a very short period. 
The multilateral donors have been suggesting the government to attach due importance to the road maintenance work. But they have rarely extended any sizeable fund to the government for the purpose. 
The government, in fact, has been in a dilemma over the issue of building new roads and doing maintenance work of the existing roads because of resource constraints. It faces immense pressure from various quarters, including the lawmakers, to build new roads, bridges and culverts. Not many people put pressure on the RHD or the local government engineering directorate to repair the existing roads. 
But the truth is that the government could have avoided the construction of many roads afresh for quite a long time, at least for 10 years, if it could ensure proper and quality maintenance of existing roads. 
The government is also aware of the fact that it is not doing enough for proper maintenance of the roads and highways. 
Apparently, out of such realization, the government got a new law, styled, the Road Maintenance Fund Board Act, adopted by parliament to ensure mobilization of sufficient funds for the maintenance of roads and periodic review and evaluation of the maintenance work and use of funds invested to this end. 
The Board which has representation of key officials of the relevant agencies will also manage a fund to be replenished regularly with government grants, donors' assistance and amounts mobilized as road sector taxes, levies, fees and charges. 
The board is yet to deliver the intended results. Hopefully, it would be able to do so shortly. It will be really a very frustrating experience if it also operates like many other statutory bodies formed by the government from time to time. 

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