Suffering on the highway


The Prothom Alo headlines on 3 March was about sufferings on the highways. Commuting can be a pain for the passengers, but when the highways are in such a pitiful state of disrepair, this hits the economy hard too. It takes 12 hours, sometimes even 16, for a commute that normally takes six hours. It is not only the people that face this delay in travel, but the transportation of goods also slows down trade and commerce. So the dilapidated state of the country’s roads and highways is an obstacle to national economic growth. This is not just a sudden setback that has cropped up. This has been continuing for year after year, becoming a more or less permanent problem.

The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s competitiveness index gives importance to the quality of roads. The capacity of a country’s economic development competitiveness depends much on the quality of its road infrastructure.  The WEF 2017 report states that Bangladesh is penultimate on the list of worst roads and highways in Asian countries. Only Nepal is on the lower rung.

And yet huge amounts are spent on road construction in our country. Our road construction costs are highest in the world. A World Bank study last year pointed out that the four-lane Dhaka-Chittagong highway has cost USD 2.5 million per km. The Dhaka-Mymensingh four-lane highway cost the same. But costs of the three four-lane highways, Rangpur-Hatikumrul, Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Mawa, were unbelievably high. These cost USD 6.6 million, USD 7 million and USD 11.9 million per km respectively. Nowhere in the world, let alone Asia, are road construction costs so high. According to the World Bank, in India four-lane road construction costs USD 1.1 million to USD 1.3 million per km. In China this is USD 1.3 million to USD 1.6 million. In European countries it is USD 3.5 million per km.

According to the Prothom Alo report, over the past eight years, the road and highways department has spent approximately Tk 400 billion on the construction and repairs of major roads and bridges. And yet more than half of the roads and highways are in a deplorable state. A road is designed and planned to last for a stretch of 15 years with no repairs. Yet within a year of construction, these roads begin to crumble and break up. Potholes and ruts appear all over. So repairs are required even before the year is complete. The repairs are shoddy too and so are needed continuously. Millions or taka are being constantly poured into the roads.

Experts say that glitches in construction and repairs are the main reason behind the predicament of the roads and highways. Heavy vehicles with excessive loads and poor drainage systems also contribute to destroying the roads.

However, the first reason is the main cause because a lot of corruption is involved. Our question is, is there no accountability for this rampant corruption, inefficiency and total lack of responsibility?

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