Here’s how Bengaluru roads can go pothole-free

Square sections of tar have appeared on various roads, as BBMP and the government scramble to resurface the city. While these will provide immediate relief, they will also become the reason why we end up in the same problem once more later.

This is this trap we need to get out of. In crisis mode, we must do something NOW. And inevitably the only option left at that time seems to guarantee a future crisis.

There is only one way to solve the problem. We have to bite the bullet, and start doing the things that will solve the problems in the long run, even if it means enduring some more pain today. The public will understand, if they see that what is being put in place is a more permanent solution.

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Suddenly, there is plenty of money available from the state government to resurface the roads. But we’re caught in a paradox. We can either do it right or do it fast, but not both.

If the roads are merely resurfaced, the job can be done in 6-8 months. But in short order, various people will begin digging the roads – e.g. home owners connecting to power and water lines, or BWSSB searching for its next leak / blockage.

To make things worse, the very fact that work is done quickly means it is done poorly, and pretty soon the stones start to shake out. A couple of rains is all it takes to wash away most hastily done work, and we’re only now at the beginning of the NE monsoon season.

If, on the other hand, we decide to do it right – by making road widths uniform, allocating a minimum wide space to footpath, ducting the utilities, and making the entrances to all properties level with the footpaths, and then strengthening the surface – that will take time, and can’t be done in time for the elections.

If I had to guess, I don’t think that voters will reward ‘good roads’ done hastily which they know won’t last. If anything, their impression about road conditions is more or less settled by now. Much better, therefore, to do it right this time. Even if it takes a while.

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Even while the deadline to make the city pothole-free passes, we are nowhere close to meeting that target. But the truth is, it was never possible to meet it, and the very fact that such promise was ever made shows that is the wrong approach.

Every city in the world needs a program to deal with deteriorating road conditions. The good ones ANTICIPATE it better, and PREVENT it better. Neither of these can be done fully, in any case, but both can go a long way towards keeping roads in fairly good condition.

On the other hand, merely responding to potholes without either of the two strategies in place will only ensure that not only is the response incomplete, it is also weak. Pretty soon, there will be potholes in the very places that we have ‘fixed’. Because what we do is not the fix, in the first place.

– Build to a better quality, using stronger materials.
– Design well, and separate the utilities properly
– Pay particular attention to areas where road friction is high.
– Create forward contracts to fix newly formed potholes quickly.
– Let local citizens know and participate in all this, in each ward.

These can work. The rest will not, by and large.

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