Why road building cost goes up    

Marsman     | Published: July 10, 2018 22:13:05 | Updated: July 11, 2018 20:59:12

We have the distinction of spending more money than China and India in road construction per kilometre. A four-lane highway costs upwards of $1.3m and $1.6m in India and China respectively for that measure of road.

In stark contrast, our estimated costs for the same length of road range from $2.5m to $ 11.9m. They relate to Rangpur-Hatikumrul, Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Mawa, Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Mymensingh four-lane highways.

Shocking and unsustainable  as the high cost differentials are vis-à-vis more powerful economies like China and India, our Roads and Highways Department (RHD)owes the public an answer to the question: What factors cost us so dear in paving roads? The only plausible, but untenable because of dubious, inefficient and corruption-smacking handling of projects-explanation comprises time and cost overruns. All this can be pinpointed through just one phrase:  Lack of competitive bidding.

The inconvenient truths tend to resurface owing to the RHD's move to reschedule the rates by an increase of 18 per cent across the board. They have found a 'significant gap' in the prices of construction materials with the rates approved in 2015. An upward adjustment is required in costing, it is argued, because the prices of rods and stones have doubled, only price of bitumen remaining stable.

Although the RHD admitted  to differences in prices of materials from one zone to another, why that must not be a countervailing factor in levelling down rather than spiking costs is difficult to understand. The RHD has 10 zonal offices covering a wide range of areas, so that instead of 'separate' rates, the estimates should be pegged to mean average prices, allowing for a holistic in the purchase and procurement policy.

Well, if there is lack of bidding, as has been reported ,then the propensity to buying at arbitrary prices will be that much greater.

Several issues arise out of such a  by and large indeterminate system with many a loophole. The foremost is whether the new schedule of a raise in rate by a flat 18 per cent is premised on cost and time overrun trends over the years. If that be the case ,which it appears to be, then it must deplored and urgently mitigated. For, it gives a convenient handle to vested quarters to carry on with their business as usual- plucking  money  from low-lying fruit  trees, as it were!

But the most pressing question to ask would be: since the construction costs are among the highest in the world, are  our highways or roads of matching quality? Far from it, given their fragile, pot-holed , moon -cratered and water-logged conditions.

This  provides compelling reasons to have built-in safe-guards or call them methodologies  on the following  levels: Strict monitoring of designs; quality control beginning with  supervised and accountable purchases and procurements with an  accompanying grip over the implementation phases.

The ministry of road transport and bridges together with the RHD is in charge of our arterial infrastructure and they spend huge sums of money on it. Every year new projects come up in tandem with unfinished parts of longer term infrastructure undertakings. The point we all must  pursue energetically and have it attended to with a visible sense of urgency is this: Let maintenance of highways and roads receive the top priority it misses out year after year. Adequate allocation of funds must be ensured for the purpose as the first sign of a turn-around.      




Share if you like