1.0 THE BASICS: THE ROAD MAINTENANCE DILEMMA

 

1.1 THE ROAD MAINTENANCE DILEMMA IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD

 

Travelling on the road networks of many developing countries one can quickly recognise that due to a lack of timely conservation measures many of these roads are in a below average condition. The state of many if not most of rural and urban roads, especially in Africa, is normally very bad, with a tendency towards accelerating deterioration. Only a small fraction of the road system seems still to be in a good condition, but there is by no way a guarantee that these roads will remain good. In a nutshell there seem to be two major causes for the Roads Maintenance Dilemma in developing countries [1]:

# Inadequate resources for the financing of the provision and conservation [2] of rural and urban roads;

# The ineffectiveness and inefficiency [3]  of the - mostly state run - roads authorities to provide and conserve roads optimally in a technical and economic sense.

The whole road conservation situation has reached crisis levels. The loss in road assets and the economic losses of road users resulting from the deterioration of existing road systems has reached unmanageable proportions in most of the developing countries. The root causes are based on two major perceptions:

# Roads are public utilities that must be provided by the State free of charge;

# The best way to provide and maintain a road system is through the State.

These two prejudices have to be regarded as road-killing viruses and ways and means must be found to overcome them. Virus 1 results in a lack of an efficient and fair road user charging system in most developing - and for that matter also most developed - countries . It has to be argued that road charges should not be regarded as road taxes to be paid into the general revenue fund but rather a price paid by road users for road consumption. Furthermore it has to be argued that such a Road User Charging System has to be simple, equitable and transparent and there should be a clear financial link between the providers and managers of the road system and the road users. Virus 2 is responsible for the lack of an effective and efficient road management system. It has to be argued that Virus 2 can be overcome by Institutional Change of existing road management systems, mainly run by the State. In order to develop a "fighting mechanism" to fight the two "road-killing viruses" the following steps must be followed:

# To learn from mistakes and experiences;

# To experiment;

# To consider alternatives;

# To come to conclusions;

# To evaluate the conclusions by renewed analysis.

 

1.2 SOME HISTORICAL REMARKS

 

Ever since the advent of motorised road transport in the 1890s there were obstacles to its evolution. Although several problems have always been present one can be highlighted for each of the three periods in the history of motorised road transportation [4]:

# In the first period, from the invention of the first fuel driven vehicles in the 1890s to the Second World War, the main limiting factor was vehicle technology. Motor vehicles were relatively expensive, not very reliable and their capacities were limited. This is the reason that before the Second World War transport technology concentrated on railways and shipping and not on road transport.

# In the second period which began at the end of World War Two, a tremendous development in motorised vehicle technology took place. The main limiting factor at the end of the 1940s was the lack of appropriate roads, even in the developed world. The substantial advancement in vehicle technology since the 1940s made it possible to manufacture better quality vehicles at lower costs. This resulted in an explosion in car ownership in the developed world that in turn led to an enormous growth of the construction of new road networks to meet in the increased demands. This was a world wide phenomenon in nearly all countries and led to the spending of considerable parts of national budgets for the building of new paved and unpaved road systems. This period of rapid development of new road networks was sustained until the early 1980s, even in an African country like Namibia. Only at the end of the 1980s the world wide trend to construct new roads declined.

# The third period began in the late 1980s when a general shift from infrastructural developments to demands like social housing, education, public health and social welfare took place in many countries. In most of them the road conservation demands accelerated faster than what could reasonably be expected in the changed budgetary environment. The reasons for this disturbing situation are the following: inflation, recession, low public state sector productivity, constant increases in traffic and axle loads to unforeseen levels, environmental factors as well as unbalanced economical situations. All these factors have contributed to the situation where the budgetary road conservation situation became difficult to control. The third period is just beginning and few countries are already efficiently and effectively redirecting their financial and human resources towards the conservation of their already existing roads. In most countries, however, no real importance is allocated to the conservation of roads, except perhaps in rhetoric.

Lets us now concentrate on the situation in Africa. The provision and expansion of relatively modern -but in many cases skewed and unbalanced - road systems in sub-Saharan Africa commenced in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1980s were mostly a " Lost Decade for Africa". It was during this period when the decay of African roads commenced at a monumental scale. Simultaneously other sectors got preference by the various ministers of finance. African countries were forced to make urgent decisions about the quality and quantity of public services such as education, health, social welfare, justice, the struggle against extreme poverty, the creation of employment opportunities etc. The construction and even much less the conservation of existing roads were not considered any more as one of the great and urgent priorities for public spending.

The result of these serious deficiencies in rural and urban roads conservation and management is causing a reduction in the net value of Africa's road systems of between US $ 2 billion and US $ 3 billion per year. But, there is not only this loss of infrastructural assets but the road users are spending unnecessarily another US $ 2 billion to US $ 3 billion in additional Vehicle Operating Costs.

It can be thus summarised that it was the challenge of the past to construct networks of new highways. It will be the challenge of the future to both balance the skewed road networks and to preserve the road systems while adapting them to users needs. Let us take one striking example: Why have our colleagues from the power supplying agencies been so much more successful, even in Africa? They were able to optimise and maintain the vast power supply investments. At the start both the roads and power systems were managed by the State. But in nearly all the developing countries, there was a point of separation. Power systems were better managed and there was a strong movement towards a better service to the consumers. The major reason for these different developments between roads and power systems were that user charges for the consumption of roads were regarded as a tax or even worse as a free service by the State and the charges for the consumption of electrical power were seen as a price.

In summary, the volume of overdue surface strengthening, rehabilitation and reconstruction works is already in many developing countries unmanageable or will soon become unmanageable in others. At the same time, there are in most cases no efficient and flexible organisations which can tackle this gigantic task of preserving road systems and there is no proper mechanism which could ensure proper road financing.

The question arises how is it possible that in many European countries roads, even roads and highways with extreme high traffic loads are serving for sixty years and more without any major reconstruction or rehabilitation? Many of these roads can serve for many more years without any major overhaul. Does road pavements not disintegrate after a certain period of time? Are we not speaking of a design period of a road of 20 years? The basic answer is not only the construction of strong pavements in the first place but regular and preventative road conservation over the full period of time. The road maintenance engineers have not waited until the pavements started to disintegrate. These highway engineers learnt the lesson early that the main enemies of a road are: overloaded heavy vehicles, deficient road drainage that allow the penetration of water and politicians that are uncommitted towards road conservation.

 

1.3 RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ROAD AND VEHICLE OPERATING COSTS

 

Because of the general shortage of public funds in many developing countries, it had become increasingly necessary to determine and justify construction, rehabilitation and conservation needs from objective standards. An essential element of any such road management system is a system of Vehicle Operating Costs ( VOC) in relation to the effects of roughness and pavement type under the relevant physical and traffic conditions. Parameters like fuel consumption, tyre wear, vehicle maintenance and depreciation as well as accident costs and time factors in relation to different road roughness levels are playing a role here [5].

Thus it can be concluded that the total costs of a road transport system can be divided between two cost sub-systems: the vehicle operating costs and the road costs associated with the construction and conservation of the road network. The relationship between these two cost groups changes as a function of time. With time the share of road costs becomes steadily less important as traffic volumes and resulting vehicle operating costs are increasing. For the road transport system to function optimally, each of the two sub-systems should minimise their costs. With other words, the relationship between road costs and vehicle operating costs must be at minimum. The translation of this relationship into an optimising road model can be called a " Pavement Management System".

There is a twofold economy of scale in road transport which has to be optimised. The first economy of scale represents the increase of traffic on a given road to the capacity limit point where the road cannot bear any more the traffic loads and has to be upgraded. The second economy of scale results from such increases of road design standards. This effect is very noticeable in determining the quality and cost optimised points of grading an unpaved road, of gravelling or regravelling an unpaved road or surfacing an unpaved road to paved standards. There, the significant reduction in total road system costs per vehicle kilometre results not only from the distribution of the road costs over more vehicles using the road, but mainly to the reduction of vehicle operating costs on a better road.

 

1.4 AN OPTIMISED CONSERVATION SYSTEM

 

In establishing an optimised conservation system the following key points must be observed [6]:

# The system should guarantee an adequate conservation of the road system at reasonable costs and at long term;

# It should optimise the cost-benefit relationships of the total road transport system (road costs and vehicle operating costs), which is not the same as trying to spend as little as possible on the conservation of roads;

# It should rationalise the use of funds by establishing a clear link between the providers of the road system and the road users;

# It should minimise the damage to the environment.

The policy of constantly allocating insufficient funds for road conservation is not sustainable in the long term and certainly does not permit an optimisation of the cost-benefit relationships between road costs and vehicle operating costs. Furthermore, without an adequate road conservation system, significant natural resources are wasted and the environment is damaged.

The normal road aging cycle can be described as follows:

Phase 1: Initial construction of a road to appropriate standards;

Phase 2: Slow and mostly unperceived deterioration of the road pavement as a factor of time, accelerated by insufficient conservation;

Phase 3: Critical stage of the road due to increased wear and tear until its looses its ability to withstand the traffic loads. Visible damage like cracking, rutting and pot-holes appear with a clear indication that the pavement structure is damaged. In a healthy conservation system the surface of the road must be strengthened at the beginning of Phase 3 when the pavement condition becomes critical;

Phase 4: Total destruction of the road pavement as the final stage of the existence of a road. Phase 4 should never be allowed

What the main task in preparing an overall conservation programme for a road network based on a sound " Pavement Management System"? The following major components have to be identified for each road or road section:

# The optimum type of conservation measures to be carried out;

# The precise time frame for the measures to be carried out (prioritising) with special emphasis to avoid any delay causing damage to the road structure.

The consequence of this is twofold: We have to tackle two basic options in the conservation cycle:

# The Dimension Option: in order to apply the correct technical conservation levels;

# The Timing Option: to do conservation timeously or Preventative Conservation.

We spoke at the beginning about the two road viruses (Virus 1: Roads have to be provided free of charge and Virus 2: The State is the best agency equipped to tackle road provision and conservation issues). But, Virus 2 has two other variants that are as dangerous as Virus 2 itself and should be regarded as part of Virus 2:

# Many developing countries have no road network conservation programme in place;

# No conservation measures are taken at the correct point of time because the "road still looks good". If the critical point is passed and the road starts to fall apart, then the authorities have no road maintenance budget in place. If the political dimension (elections etc.) is added to this Virus then this species becomes even more dangerous: Virus 2 develops into the " Forbidden Option". In order to please the public or to fulfil election promises road conservation contracts are negotiated in a rush. The inevitable result is a growing accumulation of semi-collapsed roads with no " Rate of Return" to the people.

Under this "Virus 2 variant" emergency repairs become the order of the day. The Riding Quality of roads is decreasing and the public opinion is growing worse - until the politicians are going to the last resort: to negotiate for foreign loans for the reconstruction of road networks. This loan will have to be paid back by the next generation.

The point I would like to make here is that this vicious debt circle could make uneasy bedfellows and even develop quite a dangerous revolutionary potential for the receivers of "soft loans". To my mind, stretching the link between the purpose of a loan and a scheduled repayment period of 30, 40 or 50 years will have serious repercussions in the future. The money will simply not be there and the international bankers will re-negotiate and re-schedule and find all manners of tricks to change the dates of repayments - without, of course, getting more than the debtors have [7].

 

1.5 NATIONAL ROAD ASSETS

 

A road network in any country is an investment of a gigantic scale. In Namibia, for instance, the replacement value of the road system is almost N$ 10 billion. Over time, several generations created and extended the national road asset which, in most countries, is the biggest single investment in existence, with a monetary value much greater than the value of the power or telecommunication systems or port infrastructure. A country's road asset is one of the foundations of its social and economic upliftment and, moreover, it is providing society with valuable services. Without appropriate roads there will be no sustainable development. Why do we neglect this asset? Why do we fail in conserving properly and appropriately our road networks? There seem to be three reasons [8]:

# Neglect can be caused through conscious and rational decision. This means that society and government have decided that this asset is not useful any more and can therefore be neglected. This option is highly unlikely and can be thus discarded.

# Neglect can be caused through economic and technological incapacity. This means that society and government do not have any funds available to preserve the road system. Thus, although the asset is still very useful, the asset deteriorates, at a loss to society. In some developing countries this situation is aggravated by the fact that they have no efficient access to appropriate technology in conserving the road network. On the other hand, in most cases, the financial revenues collected from road users are usually greater than the cost of conserving the existing road systems.

# Neglect through institutional incapacity. This reason for neglect can be found in almost all developing countries. The problem is twofold: Firstly there are no efficient mechanisms to raise the necessary road conservation funds and secondly there are no institutional capacities to efficiently manage the road system.

As it was outlined earlier the loss of deteriorating road networks to society is tremendous. Strangely enough, there seem to be few people to take note of this situation. The reason for this situation is mostly that there is a general lack of information which would allow the public to detect and to quantify the losses and the causes of them. Any optimised " Pavement Management System" for a road system is based on factual information. The various pavement deteriorating mechanisms which have to be quantified and qualified in an engineering sense have normally a five point rating system from very good to very bad. Four values are calculated with this information:

# The present replacement value of a country's road network;

# The maximum value of a country's road network: All sections of its system are in good condition, either new or well conserved;

# The lowest permissible value of a country's road asset: All sections of a system are in the worst permissible condition from a technical point of view. This normally corresponds to regular road condition.

# The percentage of the network in worse condition than the minimum permissible state: This situation applies to roads which have deteriorated to a point where normal conservation activities ( routine maintenance and surface renewal) are not sufficient any more to safeguard the system and full rehabilitation or reconstruction has to be applied.

In a well-conserved road system, the total network value should be about the average of the maximum value and the minium permissible value. Worse than the minimum permissible state should never be allowed.

 

1.6 REASONS WHY ROADS ARE NOT PRESERVED

 

Many maintenance divisions in many roads departments believe that their task is to do no more than to fill pot-holes or fix cracks in roads which have already collapsed from a lack of conservation. The tactics of maintenance divisions should, however, be drastically different. Conservation should already start in its planning stage. Not all road engineers are capable to identify speedily and efficiently required conservation measures timeously in order to avoid a road collapse. Therefore a complicated, concise and analysed as well as a cost and quality optimised road conservation system with appropriate engineering and technical human resources has to be in place.

Who are the beneficiaries of such an optimised road conservation system? Roads serve the direct users who use them. The provision of roads should be sufficient and appropriate. Users would like to reach all spots in a relevant country on good paved roads with minimised vehicle operating costs. This is obviously not possible because the costs of such an ideal. The cost of providing a quality optimised road system have to be balanced with the revenues received from road user charges which again have to be in balance with optimised user savings.

Economic evaluation involves the assessment of the economic worth of a project in order to ensure the optimal use of scarce economic resources. It involves the quantification of economic benefits and costs, as opposed to financial income and expenditure. Benefits are compared with costs on a marginal basis, i.e. relative to the null alternative. A project is regarded as justified if the total benefits exceed the total costs, regardless of who pays and who benefits.

Benefits are normally derived from a reduction in road user and maintenance costs relative to those incurred on the null alternative. Road characteristics which lead to cost and quality optimised models is defined as vehicle operating costs. ' VOC' is a function of the riding quality of the roads on which the user travels. While the normal differences in the evenness of paved roads have only a slight or even negligible effect on individual vehicles, heavy traffic loads have a considerable influence on the total sum of vehicle operating costs. The vehicle operating costs do, however, strongly increase on unpaved roads with bad riding qualities and high roughnesses, even for relatively small traffic numbers. It is therefore important to know the relationship between vehicle operating costs and riding quality of a road surface in order to establish a cost and quality optimised maintenance model. This relationship is changing from place to place, thus indicating its dependence on local conditions [9].

Deficient or absent road conservation is the direct result of a series of decisions. Those making many of the decisions, especially as far as the funding is concerned, are not necessarily representing the interests of road users. Demands for the allocation of more funds for road conservation, either from users or the responsible line ministry are unlikely to be successful unless they are supported by important sectors of the national society. We have established that road conservation should take place as long as the road infrastructure is still intact. But, this argument is counterproductive! While roads look still presentable, nobody is very much interested in asking for more money for road conservation. Only when roads start to collapse the public at large and the road users will start complaining. Only at this point of time it will be easier to raise the necessary funds, even if these funds are a couple of times more than the amount which would have been required for " preventative road conservation".

 

1.7 THE ROAD CONSERVATION VICIOUS CIRCLE

 

In an effort to overcome the problems above sketched it is necessary to make important changes in the way road networks are financed and managed. The present institutional set-ups are not conducive to bring road conservation levels to optimised levels. Any basic change must go to the roots of the two major evils. Without a clear understanding of these causes there is not only the risk of failing now, but also of discrediting later attempts to bring about the necessary changes. It seems that attempts to find solutions are running in a vicious circle with the two basic causes:

# An inadequate system for financing road conservation;

# An inadequate organisational set-up of road management.

How can we break this vicious circle and what has sub-Saharan Africa done about it? This question will be investigated in the next section. Section 3 will investigate what Namibia should do in order to preserve her road system in an optimised way.

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