Paving The Road To Success
Paving The Road To Success

Paving The Road To Success

At over 4,689,842 kilometres (2,914,133 mi) in 2013, India has the second largest road network in the world. Qualitatively, however, these roads are a mix of modern highways and narrow, unpaved roads that are in need of urgent improvement. Sanjay explains the dire need to quickly shift to concrete based roads.

In its 2010 report, the advisory firm KPMG said that India´s road network logistics and transportation bottlenecks hinder the country´s GDP growth by one to two per cent amounting to a staggering loss of US$16 billion US$32 billion and equivalent to a loss of about 10 million new jobs every year (the base year of calculations is 2010).

Upgrading roadways has always been a major issue in a developing economy like ours; unsurprisingly, because it is central to our growth and self-actualisation as a nation. The government´s recent utterances and actions only underline this focus area and initiatives around it. However, roadways across the country are perennially in a constant state of repair and refurbishment demanding the question that needs to be asked, ´Why do our roads face such rapid wear and tear in the first place?´

Misplaced priorities
There are a variety of reasons from quality, to material, to load. Most roads in India are tar based roads. While prior to the 1990s this was primarily driven by the low availability of cement. Even after the current, vast supplies of the material available, the use of concrete roads is yet to gain momentum. This is because the tar is at least two to three times cheaper than concrete and continues to find favor with most contractors as a means of keeping costs down. However, what is important to note is that while concrete roads are costlier to lay in the initial stage, using a lifecycle cost analysis comparison, the cost equation begins to shift in favor of concrete after an interval of 5-15 years. Concrete roads are relatively maintenance free, while tar roads are in need of face lifts at frequent intervals as a result of low resistance and the fact that their strength deteriorates rapidly with usage.

Proven Material
Ironically India was one of the first countries in the world to build concrete roads. The first reference of a concrete road in India dates to 1907 in Rangoon, Burma which was then within the boundaries of British ruled India. Even today some of these roads continue to remain in good condition. Concrete is the preferred choice of material to build roads in most of the developed world with the United States often cited as the benchmark for concrete roads. Concrete highways have an excellent track record as a cost-effective investment with rigid concrete roads outperforming tar roads on economic and safety benefits as well as having considerably less impact on the environment. Today nearly 40 percent of U.S. interstate highways are built with concrete. Some of our most advanced, six-lane highways the Mumbai-Pune expressway and the Yamuna Expressway to name a couple are concrete based and proof of the virtues of concrete over tar.

Long term benefits
One of the most important features of India´s roadways is our network of National Highways that stretch across the length and breadth of the country. While they comprise only 1.7 per cent of the road network, they carry about 40 per cent of the total road traffic. Reflecting their strategic importance, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways announced that during the financial year 2013-14, about 8,270 kilometers of the National Highways would be improved along with construction/rehabilitation of 100 bridges and four bypasses as stand-alone projects at an estimated cost of INR 23,300 crore.

Thus, while big spends are made on the road sector, what continues to hold us back is that in India, the government typically awards road construction projects on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model to contractors with the lowest bid amount, setting in motion a vicious cycle of regular maintenance uplifts.

Planners are only now beginning to recognise that tenders for road infrastructure projects should include a life cycle cost analysis component, based on the estimated costs of a project over its entire service life. When this concept is applied to maintenance, rehabilitation, reconstruction and value of road, life cycle costs are evaluated, as well as initial costs, revealing the full expense of the selected material. And what is slowly but surely emerging is that over the life of a roadway, concrete performs better than tar on all counts.

Moving in right direction
That things are changing is clear - BMC- Mumbai´s local government authority is working to concretise all roads in the city by end 2018. Currently Mumbai´s most famous carriageway, Marine Drive, is in the process of being re-concretised rather than re-surfaced with asphalt - a showcase victory of concrete over tarmac. If India is to take its economic growth to 6 per cent and above per annum, a lot will depend on building world-class roadways. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways already estimates that traffic on roads is growing at a rate of up to 10 per cent per annum, while vehicular population growth is nearly 12 per cent per annum. This demands new, strong, enduring roads for increased connectivity. One only hopes that the next phase of construction will be undertaken with concrete - the material that can truly pave India´s road to success.

R Sanjai AED - Institutional Sale Dalmia Cement Bharat

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