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Opinion

Friday, 12 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Concrete way to better roads

A COUPLE of months ago, I visited a friend at Kampung Olak Lempit in Kuala Langat, Selangor. It is a quaint little village where one can still buy five relatively big slices of pisang goreng for RM1.

It wasn’t the pisang goreng that excited me but a sleek 1.8km stretch of concrete road which has been the pride and joy of the kampung folks for the past 30 years. Called Jalan Seribu Tahun (JST) or Thousand Year Road, it was constructed with the blood, sweat and tears of the kampung folks with a little help from others. They toiled during the day, and during Ramadan, they worked at night after the terawih prayers.

It was the brainchild of Tan Sri Sanusi Junid for a gotong royong scheme where residents and youth groups provided labour and the Rural Development Ministry provided the funds, materials and equipment. It was a simple idea but with a well thought-out plan, which I term as a concrete plan. It brought together kampung folks and inculcated the spirit of camaraderie, reduced involvement in unhealthy activities and forged a healthy spirit of neighbourliness.

I was surprised to hear from my friend that JST needed very minimal maintenance despite its heavy usage today. This would be ideal to fulfil the objectives of the Road Facilities Maintenance of the Public Works Department (PWD), that is to ensure all public roads always function properly, safely and comfortably and provide superior maintenance services that are cost effective.

In the 2018 Budget, there are huge allocations for roads, be it access, upgrading, alternative or new roads. Taking a cue from JST and our renowned maintenance culture, I would strongly urge the PWD and other relevant ministries or departments to consider the use of concrete for the new roads because, besides strength and durability, concrete pavements also provide a durable and skid resistant surface which would inevitably save lives. Therefore, cities and major highways could opt for concrete due to less frequent repairs and better strength from heavier traffic volume.

Recently, a news report stated that one of the road maintenance companies’ outstanding order book stands at RM4.2bil up to the year 2026 and is expected to grow further from financial year 2018 onwards. Since the company controls about 40% of the market share for federal roads maintenance, by extrapolation the total amount of federal road maintenance is easily more than RM10bil for the said period. This is a large amount of money which does not include roads under the purview of the Malaysian Highway Authority and DBKL. I am not surprised that a lot of funds are used for the so-called patching repairs. At a time when funding issue is among the reasons for delays in road repairs, this would not have been a major issue if we had built concrete roads earlier.

I wonder how much of Malaysian roads are built in concrete today? A quick Google search shows that asphalt roads are relatively low cost compared with other paving methods and perceived ease of repair.

Isn’t prevention better than cure? There is also a Malay proverb that says “Alah membeli menang memakai” (roughly translated as “good stuff is expensive but durable”).

Having said that, this is from the perspective of a layperson and I understand there is no black-and-white solution to this matter. But we should be looking at a win-win situation.

I think what is required now is for the PWD to do a new life-cycle cost analysis calculation between the two without losing sight of economic, social, sustainability and environmental impacts to determine the best paving solutions. The parameters and assumptions used should be relevant for both cases.

Road surfacing plays a vital role in the economy, as well as the wellbeing of its population through the provision of safe transport of goods and people.

If we see the benefit of building a High Speed Rail (HSR) at high initial cost, why not consider concrete roads that will last a thousand years?

SALEH MOHAMMED

Kuala Lumpur