BMC will cement roads to avoid potholes. Is it a good strategy?

The BMC is pushing for cement concretisation of several internal roads in the city to combat the pothole problem. We take a look at what this means.

Between April 9th and September 8th, this monsoon, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) filled 31,398 potholes in the city, measuring 1,56,910 sq.m, with 2,696 metric tonnes of bitumen cold mix. The expenditure for this was roughly Rs forty-eight crores. 

However, every year, all 24 administrative wards in Mumbai are allotted only Rs two crores each for tending to potholes that emerge every monsoon. Of these, while Rs 1.5 crores is meant for preventing potholes, the rest – Rs 50 lakh – is meant for filling potholes that have become a repetitive problem in the city. 

The BMC had set up a special asphalt plant in Worli just to develop a cold mixture for filling them.

How does the BMC plan to combat the pothole problem long-term?

The BMC is now pushing for cement concretisation (CC) of about 5000 internal roads in the city to reduce the problem of potholes. They’ve included internal roads as small as 6 metres wide for cementing, the BMC informed in a press statement issued on September 13th. It stated that asphalt roads were not sustainable during the monsoons and hence it has decided to replace them with cement roads.

“While earlier we would CC only important roads, chiefly the BEST routes with a width of about 18 metres, now we have decided to cement all internal roads as asphalted roads were found to wilt during monsoons leading to potholes. This work of cementing roads would be taken up in phases with roughly an estimated 100 kms of road to be cemented every year,” says Manoj Kamath, deputy chief engineer (roads) of the BMC. 

What would this mean for the city?

This means that of the total 2000 kms under the jurisdiction of the BMC, almost all asphalted roads will be cemented. As of now, about 750 kms of roads are concretised including the highways and main bus routes in the city. This was a result of a policy to concretise only main roads, which was executed a decade ago . 

The BMC has also decided to phase out the rectangular blocks of stone, called paver blocks — both in roads, pavements and in the side shifts (the patch between roads and pavements) —  since they lead to uneven patches and potholes and encourage unauthorised diggings by various utility providers. The network of water, drainage and even sewage lines besides cable lines of telephones, electricity run below the road network in the city. Earlier, only the central portion of the road would be cemented but the side shifts would either be asphalted or paver blocked. But, now the BMC proposes to CC even the side shifts, Kamath says.

Why CC roads may not be feasible

The city’s roads are regularly dug up to repair the utility lines beneath the roads. Cementing the roads is permanent and does not offer the option to open the roads that reach out to the utility lines. 

Read more: The easiest way to fix Mumbai’s potholes is to complain on Twitter

How will the new cement roads accommodate the various utility lines?

“Asphalt roads have not performed well. Worldover most cities have concretised long back and have found CC roads to be far superior because of the design life of 50-70 years. It’s a proven fact that CC roads perform substantially better with heavy traffic roads with high stop and stand traffic mobility. This happened not just in Europe and North American cities but also in most Southeast Asian countries,” says  Pankaj Joshi, principal director of non-profit Urban Center Mumbai.

He explains that the policy to CC major roads was taken about a decade ago and had marked a decline in potholes despite rise in traffic volumes. “The limitation with a city like Mumbai is that you cannot dig up and repair all the roads at one go; at the most you can take up 2-3 percent of the whole city. So, it’s going to be a long winding process because CC roads take up 3-6 month programs to lay the roads. Concrete roads are the need of the hour. They may cost fractionally more but considering that they have a long design life of 50-70 years, they are a good investment of public investment in infrastructure,” says Joshi. 

Pothole documented under Parel bridge, Mumbai
Pothole in Parel | Credit: Say No to Potholes, Instagram

With Mumbai at a critical stage, where it is planning for the effects of climate change, the concretisation of roads has to be carefully examined. Concrete is a rigid substance and therefore impermeable, presenting a unique challenge. The plan would have to include the safety of road users whose requirements could evolve over time, therefore it might be necessary to explore other options. “If we are going to concrete every street, then it is critical to design every street element just right, to make it safer for all road users and to avoid the risk of being locked into a poor and unsafe street space for a long period”, says Dhawal Ashar, head of Integrated Transport at World Resources Institute.

The BMC says it has chalked out a five year action plan to cement most of the 5000 internal roads in the city. “The BMC has the money, the people and the technology and the equipment, but if quality roads still fail to elude the Mumbaikars, the reason is not far to see.  The real issue is lack of supervision, our system is so corrupt; everyone knows which roads is being supervised by which engineer and yet no action is taken. Lack of political will translates into lack of supervision of projects by civic engineers resulting in shoddy implementation of infrastructure projects. Annual spending in crores for just filling of potholes is a lucrative business for ruling political parties here. Not surprisingly, building long lasting roads does not interest the powers that be. If the political parties really want good roads they can easily get it done, but the intent needs to be there,” says Rais Shaikh, leader of the Samajwadi Party in the BMC and a legislator from Bhiwandi, which is also plagued by potholes.

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