The economics of roads – Part 1

Vittal Mallya Road was built about five years ago. When it was built, it was proposed as a higher order of design than the roads that BBMP usually builds. The difference consists of three key elements:

  • a level and continuous footpath
  • ducting of all utilities
  • a concrete surface of uniform width

Plus some nice things like better lighting, and a little vegetation. In Tender SURE, most of these became standard, and in BBMP we improved the design by re-doing the way the storm water drains are built.

The road cost a lot of money to build. But it was a lot more use-able than the usual roads, and more or less safe from digging, since there is nothing to dig for. Any cable that needs relaying can simply be pulled out and re-introduced. And the additional expenditure was justified on the argument that a high quality road that doesn’t need to be dug up for any work would, in the long run, cost a lot less than a cheap road that is relaid again and again, and is never of good quality.

Now, with the passage of time, there is plenty of proof. Many other roads in the vicinity, as well as other important roads in the city centre, have been retarred repeatedly in the last five years, and they are STILL NOT of the same quality as Vittal Mallya road, and they will STILL NEED additional expenditure to improve them to a good standard.

There is absolute evidence now that endless tar-laying, even to alleviate a desperate situation like in Whitefield recently, is more expensive and less useful than doing the job correctly, once.

The question is – will we learn from this? Why not build 500 roads like this in the city, instead of the 50 Tender SURE roads that the government proposes in the next three years? Why not make EVERY road contract conform to these higher norms, instead of selecting only a few roads for better work? With BBMP being so cash-strapped, and the state government virtually at the limit of its borrowing rights, it is critical that we spend every rupee right. 

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About Ashwin Mahesh 96 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.