WHILE travelling around Maharashtra last year in January I saw concrete roads being constructed around Vidarbha region particularly in the districts of Nagpur , Bhandara and Gondia. I remember around 1999 when I was a college student and happened to go to Mumbai, I saw cement concrete being used in road construction. Initially, I could not believe that the construction workers were using cement for road construction but after visualizing it myself on famous Cadell Road , it made me believe that cement concrete can be used for laying roads. For more than 20 years, a question would always come to my mind as to why the Jammu & Kashmir Government was not using cement concrete for road construction as the traditional Bitumen roads get damaged every year during winter snowfall with the sub-zero temperature?
PMGSY Road in Budgam
Last year, a 9 ½ km road stretch from Bonyar to Goggee Pathri via Bonen Kutbal in Surasyar block of district Budgam was constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna (PMGSY). Locals told me it was a Rs 14 crore project. I could not cross check this as PMGSY J&K has no official website nor are there Detailed Project Reports (DPR’s) of roads available on the respective district websites in J&K. I had already taken up the issue with Lt Governor during my January 18th meeting with him and the Government has subsequently constituted a committee under Secretary IT to ensure continuous updating of websites. I had written a detailed piece on this issue last week.
Residents of Bonyar , Bonen , Kutabal and other villages around Surasyar Budgam were overwhelmed when they saw Bitumen layers being spread on this PMGSY road stretch. Blacktopping of a road surface was happening for the first time on this link road. When the work was completed, people enjoyed the ride on the road surface for several months. This was only a short-lived enjoyment as the January snowfall damaged the road surface. The use of BullDozer (JCB) to clear the snow from the road , further damaged it as it created fissures and cracks on the road surface. Had the Government invested Rs 30 crore or more on this project, that would have ensured better durability of the road. With bitumen roads, there occurs a lot of water logging, while with cement concrete roads, the management of water logging is much better. The Bitumen roads are to be laid and repaired again and again almost every year after the winter season or post monsoon season across India owing to the damages incurred during the season, but cement concrete roads last longer than upto 30 to 40 years.
Scarifying the road surface
It has now become a trend to blacktop road surfaces without even scarifying the surface. This has destroyed the road landscape in almost all the areas of Srinagar and major towns. The boundary walls around residential houses located on main roads look short and shabby now as continuous bitumen layers have elevated most of the road surfaces. Scarifying is breaking up hard or compacted materials to create enough space for material to settle down. Just placing Bitumen filling material on a damaged road surface to fill the ruts and potholes is a temporary fix. The bitumen material does not bind in the ruts and potholes. This only increases the height of the road and makes the surrounding landscape shabby. The proper way to reshape the damaged road is to scarify the surface to the depth of the depressions. This breaks up all the compacted surrounding surface materials. After scarifying the material, the Bitumen can settle down properly. Cement concrete roads cannot be built at all unless the road surface is not scarified 2 to 3 feet deep. Thus, concrete roads have this advantage. In J&K we can restore the lost glory of roads and surrounding landscape if concrete road projects are taken up. On pilot basis two stretches have been constructed in Srinagar from Iqbal park area to Rambagh bridge and around Pir Bagh area near Police Headquarters. I would suggest the Government take up more such projects next financial year.
Cement concrete roads have a long service life which can last between 35 to 40 years, whereas, roads made up of Bitumen last for around 10 years in areas with no snowfall , but in a place like Kashmir or Ladakh where the temperature drops down to sub-zero and there is heavy snowfall as well the roads get damaged within 2 to 3 years only. During the service life concrete roads do not require frequent repairs or patching work like macadamized roads. The vehicles that run over a concrete road, consume 15-20 per cent less fuel as compared to roads made of asphalt –bitumen. This is because of the fact that a concrete road does not get deflected under the wheels of loaded heavy vehicles. During the processing of bitumen lots of toxic gases are emitted from these plants and subsequent less fuel consumption by the vehicle operating on a concrete road leads to little pollution as well. Bitumen is made from imported petroleum products which is the non -renewable source of energy. If we constantly use these products a day will come when these natural resources will be finished. On contrary to this concrete (cement) is produced from abundantly available limestone. Cement factories also lead to air pollution, but in comparison researchers say that concrete material is still better than bitumen.
Taking on board Hot mix Plant owners
On the basis of initial cost of pavement the Concrete Roads are reported to be around 15 to 16 % costlier than the Bituminous Roads. However, on life cycle cost basis, the cement concrete roads due to their long life of 35 to 40 years and better durability are estimated to be around 25-30% cheaper when compared with Bitumen roads. On the long term basis, cement concrete roads are actually more economical. To compensate the hot-mix plant owners who have invested a lot in setting up of these plants in J&K, the Government must involve them in construction of cement concrete roads so that their economic interests are also safeguarded.
Gadkari on concrete roads
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari in 2017 said all the roads in the country would be converted into cement-concrete to ensure their stability and durability. During a function he had said that cement concrete roads built 20 years ago in Mumbai are still in good shape but some political leaders, bureaucrats and contractors were against concrete roads. Gadkari said that cement concrete roads would last for 200 years. The minister was speaking while inaugurating ‘Prawaas 2017’—India International Bus and Car Travel Show in Mumbai on July 29th 2017. In-fact Gadkari has ensured construction of concrete roads in nook and corner of Nagpur as he seems to be the biggest proponent of these roads.
This harsh winter has taught us many lessons. Most of our road surfaces are in shambles now. Even roads blacktopped last summer have been damaged. There is huge waterlogging and potholes can be seen everywhere. Most parts of the Srinagar city is messed up due to bad roads. The Government without wasting any time must start construction of cement concrete roads in J&K so that taxpayer’s money is not wasted every year on the bitumen roads.
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