Before assessing the situation in relation to the task or action required for the maintenance of roads in the country, we need to address the issue of the understanding of the term “maintenance”. The basic objective of road maintenance is implicit in the word itself. It is done to ensure that the road that has been constructed or improved is maintained in its original condition. It is accepted that over the life of the road it will deteriorate due to factors with which maintenance activities alone cannot deal. Nevertheless, maintenance is intended to begin on the first day after the road improvement works are completed.
In practice the effect of regular and timely maintenance is to increase the life of the road by putting off the date at which it needs to be reconstructed. This has several benefits, prominent of them being that it stretches the period over which the benefits of the investment made are available and, therefore, provides a higher rate of return on the initial investment. In addition, it puts off the date where large investments have to be made to reconstruct the road.
But this aspect has been a most neglected one in Nepal whether at local or national level. Once the roads are constructed, they are largely left untended for long periods of time until they are full of potholes and the journey along those roads becomes a jolting experience. This neglect is not new in Nepal. Ever since planned development commenced in the country sixty years ago, the stress has almost always been on construction, much less on the maintenance of the roads constructed. This has led to a common situation in Nepal that soon after roads are constructed, roads start showing wear and tear but they are not given regular attention and maintained accordingly. As a result, the roads continue to deteriorate. That is why the condition of most of the country’s roads provides ample proof of poor maintenance and this means they are in bad shape.
As the yearly cost of maintaining a road is a small fraction of the investment cost, usually some two to three per cent, the economic logic for effective preventative maintenance is undeniable. It can indeed be argued that the construction of roads, while consuming large amounts of money is of limited importance if there is no effective maintenance system in existence as is the case in Nepal.
Road maintenance is often viewed as an activity that is carried out only when the road is damaged. That view is not true. As no one would apply this approach to build his own house or even his health, it is strange that it seems to be a pervasive attitude in the road sector which is an irony. This situation is particularly critical with unsealed roads, which in the case of the majority of district roads all over the country. Here the main enemy of the road is water.
The whole concept of rural road building is to get out the water quickly and as efficiently as possible away from the road structure to avoid damage.
This means that the camber of the surface, the slope of the shoulders, the side drains and cross drainage structure need not only to be constructed effectively but there is also the need to keep it in a condition that will permit the free run-off of water away from the road. This means that the road once constructed has to be looked after on a regular basis.
This is why routine maintenance is so important and also is the care of an effective maintenance system. The term recurrent maintenance is sometimes used to cover certain activities which are carried out during the year over and above the activities that are undertaken over three to five years and are concerned with rectifying defects which are outside the scope of routine maintenance.
Routine maintenance, however, remains the key and vital activity. It is the least costly, but at the same time provides the greatest benefit. The present road maintenance in the budget of districts and municipalities reflects the curative rather than preventative approach to maintenance. Funds for the maintenance are allocated to small, medium and big works i.e. earthen, gravel and blacktop. The task of Roads Board Nepal [RBN] is not only to develop an effective and realistic road maintenance system but also to create a maintenance culture at the local local level.
Local roads are essential for any country’s economic and social development. For the urban economy, roads are vital links between production centres and markets. Their multiple function of providing access to employment, social, health service and education makes them key elements in the fight against poverty by opening up rural areas and stimulating economic and social development. Large rural road networks built at great expense are found to be inadequately maintained and used more heavily than expected.
The result is that the rural roads are deteriorating with the passage of time. The maintenance effort is not at an appropriate level in rural roads. The cost of restoring rural roads is going to be three to five times greater than it would have been for timely and effective maintenance and strengthening.
Furthermore, the current state of the economy imposes limitations on the money available for investments in rural roads and their maintenance.