The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) in its regular weekly meeting on Tuesday approved a couple of Roads and Highways Department (RHD) projects that aims at prolonging the life of the country's major national highways.
One project seeks to repair and maintain the all-important Dhaka-Chottogram four-lane highway at a cost of Tk 8.0 billion. The construction of the highway was completed only two and a half years back at a cost of Tk 38.17 billion.
The other project is for setting up 21 axle-load control centres along the country's highways at a cost of Tk16.30 billion.
In fact, the RHD had come up with a project for repair and maintenance of the same highway at an estimated cost of Tk. 9.44 billion in March last year. The project was revised following certain issues raised by the Planning Commission. The RHD said that the road maintenance and repair project was necessary because of the wear and tear being caused to the highway by overloaded vehicles and plying of greater number of heavy trucks and trailers.
There is no denying that overloaded trucks and other heavy vehicles have been causing damage to roads and highways. The RHD is aware of the problem. So, it is natural on its part to build roads and highways that are capable of withstanding the heavy load for a reasonable period of time. Cost in this case should not be a problem for the RHD since it spends an unreasonably high amount on building roads and highways.
The cost of the Dhaka-Chottogram highway was revised upward along with extension of execution time on a number of occasions as happens in the case of most priority and big projects in this country. The submission of an expensive repair and maintenance project by the RHD for the same highway, that too only after 15 months after its completion, appears rather strange. This, obviously, prompts many people to raise questions about the quality of work.
Similar developments have taken place in the case of the four-lane Dhaka- Mymensingh highway. The highway too has developed cracks and holes at a number of points some months after the completion of the project. This is, however, nothing surprising as most roads built by public sector agencies or local government bodies do usually meet the same fate as substantial part of the money allocated for those is pocketed by a section of dishonest contractors, officials and politicians through collusion.
It however cannot be denied that the allocation of fund for maintenance and repair of roads and highways has always been meagre. Regular maintenance and repair would have helped the government to prolong the life of roads in the country. But the policymakers are found to be more interested in building new roads than maintaining the old ones. This particular problem, unfortunately, has failed to draw the attention of the men in authority.
The other cost-intensive project that aims at controlling the plying of overloaded vehicles has been long overdue. Yet the outcome of the project remains in doubt. The transport owners and workers abhor any sort of control. The anarchy that dominates the country's transport sector is a testimony to that fact. Besides, one cannot be certain about honesty and integrity of the RHD employees who would be manning the axle load controlling centres along the highways.
So, the government, under the circumstances, will have to ensure quality road construction work and proper operation of the proposed axle-load controlling centres to help prolong the life of the country's roads and highways.