Potholes: a “Thorn in the flesh” for the denizens of Kathmandu valley

Bad conditioned roads have been a “thorn in the flesh” for the denizens of Kathmandu Valley for a long time. Even where the roads are blacktopped, the roads soon become filled with potholes within few months of their construction. With the arrival of pre-monsoon and followed by monsoon soon after, the problems created by potholes are amplified. 

Causes

The durability of an asphalt road is mainly decided by the quality of the raw materials used, environmental factors, and traffic loads. With all these factors in mind, an average asphalt road is still supposed to last on an average of 8 to 15 years before requiring major repair [1]. Proper and timely maintenance of roads also plays an important role in preventing the occurrence of potholes, which is lacking in Nepal. In our case, poor repair work and untimely maintenance is the leading cause of potholes. Repair works that are being done to fill the existing potholes aren’t up to the standard. [2]. There are lots of examples of repair works related to potholes, that don’t even last a few days. The first lockdown was an important opportunity to use to conduct repair works and maintenance, as there was less obstruction in the repair works from the traffic. Budgets had also been allocated for roads for all 32 wards of Kathmandu City. Though there was some repair work done on certain parts of the road, yet, most of the roads were not upgraded as planned. The responsible authorities cited lockdown as the reason [3]. According to them, lack of labors and construction materials caused by the pandemic were the major reasons for the obstruction in the repair work. Thus, the pandemic has also impeded the planned repair works.  

Additionally, we can list further reasons which lead to new roads filled with potholes within months of construction. Another problem is “Asare Bikash” which is like a plague affecting almost all development projects [4]. This problem exists as a large chunk of the first quarter of the fiscal year is spent on planning. The delay is further exaggerated by the fact that the arrangements in the Public Procurement plan cause the completion of the Public Procurement process to take at least 45 days. Government has to conduct a re-tender in the case of cancellation of the tender. On top of that, the ministry of finance grants additional budget either in the second or third quarter. If a government body fails to spend the given amount of budget, the Ministry of Finance will deduct the amount from the next fiscal year. Thus, this leads to hazardous spending, which without a doubt, are lacking in quality and planning. 

Another reason is the failure of the Public Procurement Process [5]. Collusions of political leaders from all major parties to benefit from contractors leads to poor quality of public works. Missing deadlines and the use of low-quality materials are the results of such collusions. One famous example is of the “Pappu construction”, which was notorious for procuring a large number of contracts, most of which crossed completion deadlines. Along with missed deadlines and poor output, the collapse of structures like bridges, during the construction phase itself, is another problem plaguing the development scenario in Nepal [6][7].  

 

Solutions

To solve the problem of potholes, first and foremost regular maintenance and good quality repair works are needed. The prohibition order imposed by the government due to the advent of the second wave is an important opportunity to do repair works on current potholes, due to fewer traffic obstructions as mentioned earlier. Given the current pandemic scenario and widespread prohibition order in place throughout the country, the government must facilitate the movement and distribution of construction materials and labors employed in construction. This will also help the construction industry which is facing problems in the supply chain

In addition, accountability has to be increased. The trend of “Asare Bikash” has to come to an end. Not only for roads but for the sake of all other major development works. Likewise, the Public Procurement process needs more transparency and the system needs to be restructured. The Public Procurement Management Office (PPMO) must be given more power to ensure that there are no collusions in the public procurement process and those contractors who perform poorly are punished likewise. Constant monitoring must be done by the responsible authority, to ensure that the roads are made according to the safety and quality standard. 

Last but not the least, a promising solution is the use of plastic roads [8]. Plastic Roads are ideal in Nepal because of their durability. They do not absorb water and thus there is less rutting. Due to their durability, they are more resistant to negligence and delayed maintenance, and won’t form potholes as readily. Furthermore, the use of soft plastic as a raw material also helps to minimize the prevalent problem of non-biodegradable waste management in the valley. To add the cherry on top of the cake, these plastic roads are cheaper than conventional asphalt roads. The use of plastic roads can save as much as Rs. 200,000 per kilometer, when compared to the standard asphalt road.

 

Saujan Khapung

Saujan Khapung works as an intern at Samriddhi Foundation. He has an undergraduate degree in Economics from Kathmandu University.

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