New rules for road construction, novel methods and maintenance responsibilities has pushed contractors to build better roads & highways.
BY JAYASHREE KINI MENDES
Development of roads & highways has seen a meteoric rise in the last few years in India. It has created new records hitherto unseen. According to reports, the Road Transport and Highways Ministry built 5,759km of National Highways till November this financial year, amounting to 58% of the target set for the ongoing fiscal. The Ministry had set a target of construction of 10,000km of National Highways in the current fiscal 2018-19. The achievement so far, is by and large in consonance with the annual target, keeping in view that the period of three months from July to September is the rainy season, when the pace of construction considerably slows down. So it only means that much work still remains to be done.
Despite the issues, roads & highways projects in India have been progressing at breakneck speed. According to Amit Uplenchwar, CEO, HCC E&C, says, “For the first time, the daily average of road construction has touched 28km per day against the average of 11km in FY2014. The number achieved is the highest ever. These are because of some of the measures taken by the government of India which resulted in this increased pace of construction. Some of these are:
• Higher budgetary allocations in the annual union budgets, [FY19: Rs 71,000 cr, FY18: Rs 61,000 cr].
• Higher rate of awarding the projects: Awarding of highway construction projects went up by nearly 70%, an all-time annual high in FY18. The projects awarded were worth Rs 1.2 lakh crore. This is against 4,300km projects, worth Rs 59,000 crore that was awarded in FY17.
• Speeding up clearances: MoRTH has been given authority to approve road projects of cost up to Rs 1,000 crore as against the earlier process of going to CCEA.
• Introduction of hybrid annuity model (HAM) wherein the government provides 40% of the project cost to the developer to start work, while the remaining investment has to be made by the developer.
MoRTH has been continuously working to ensure that under no condition do work on roads & highways slow down or halt. In December, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari laid the foundations for National Highway projects worth Rs 9,533 crore in India’s frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh. He laid the foundation for projects including 2 laning of Akajan-Likabali-Bame and the Joram-Koloriang road from 50km to 138km of NH 713. The Union Minister also laid foundation for relaunch of Potin to Pangin of NH 229. “The focus in 2019 now would be to build a network of “world-class expressways”, he had also said.
The government has made it mandatory that the maintenance of the road is the responsibility of the contractor for the next 15 years.
Explaining how systematically the Ministry is working, Satish Parakh, MD, Ashoka Buildcon, says, “The government is expediting land acquisition before allotting any work. So unless 90% of the land is clearly available, there is no work being handed out. The process of land acquisition has been quite painful in the entire system. Earlier, the Ministry would allot projects even before land acquisition could be complete and then it would be a parallel process during execution. This system has now changed. Land acquisition is first completed before projects are awarded to concessionaires. This helps us execute the project faster and smoother.”
how the system works
Speaking to Construction Week, Yudhvir Singh Malik, secretary, Road Transport and Highways, said the government has ruled out capacity addition because of the onerous tasks of land acquisition, the expensive utilities shifting, etc. So in January last year, it came up with guidelines on a few major issues. One was that development of road capacity along the economic corridors need not necessarily be an expansion of the existing road. Since the focus at the initial stage of any road construction has been on connecting major cities and towns en route, it need not be an optimal alignment from the Origin and Destination. It could take a circuitous route, and a serpentine one, whereas an economic corridor becomes most efficient when it’s a crow-fly route.
Malik admits there are challenges, but he prefers to remain firmly in the present. “When we take up expansion of an existing road, we face three or four challenges. One is land acquisition for the expanded right of way, second is utilities shifting, the third is tree felling, and lastly, it is the removal of structures. Each one of these has costs, and takes time and effort in getting approvals from authorities, and then addressing them,” he adds.
HCC constructed Mughal road, a most challenging project.
Probably for this reason all the projects that are coming up, the government has made it mandatory that if the project is high priority, the maintenance is the responsibility of the contractor for the next 15 years. “So considering the first part, the contractor tries to build a good road. He has the best technology, because otherwise maintenance is his responsibility, or he will not get his annuity. In terms of EPC projects, the maintenance of the road or highway is the responsibility of the contractor for four years,” says Parakh.
On an average, a properly constructed road will require maintenance every four years. But then this also depends on various factors like the materials used for construction, the quality of the material and the weather conditions. “Unfortunately, in India we build roads and then we forget about them. The network of existing highways and expressways built in the last two decades is now showing signs of premature failure due to cumulative effect of inadequate maintenance and structural inadequacies to cater the need of increased traffic volume and heavy axle loads. In many situations, lack of proper drainage is the principal cause for the failure of the highway pavement structure. The maintenance funds provided for highways by the government departments are woefully inadequate and due to this, the task of preserving and maintaining highway assets is becoming increasingly complex and difficult,” says Uplenchwar.
The life of a road can be preserved and can be prolonged if adequate repair and maintenance are undertaken at the proper time on a regular basis. Proper design, regular periodical inspection and upkeep of drainage system are of utmost importance in preserving the huge investments made on construction of high-speed highway corridors.
“Despite the abundant availability of cement in India, our tendency is to go in for asphalt pavement roads as the cost of construction is cheaper than concrete pavement roads. Concrete pavement roads are more durable and offer a better lifecycle economy. So NHAI/MoRTH/state government undertakings must shift focus to start building more concrete pavement roads,” adds Uplenchwar.
The use of modern road construction equipment has worked wonders to building better roads.
Over the years, much mechanisation has happened and there’s also a lot of recycling being done from the environment point of view. “Earlier, the road was milled and then reused for coring, after which new coring is reduced. There are techniques like cement-based sub-base that increase the life of the road. In that, concrete highways increase the life of the road by 50% so frequent overlays are not required. Technology-wise, we are bringing in the best since they are all design-built and it is up to the contractor to get the best of the technology,” says Parakh.
Novel methods of construction are being explored. Sustainable highways are highways that integrate transportation functionality and environmental sustainability. A sustainable pavement is a durable one that minimises the use of energy and renewable resources, while generating minimum pollutants, in the most cost-effective manner with maximising benefits. Some of the emerging technologies proposed to be used for building sustainable roads are as follows: Recycling of cement concrete pavement slabs from buildings & pavements; reclaimed asphalt pavement; and use of blast furnace slag.
Erosion of roads used to happen because the onus on the contractor was a one-year defect liability for maintenance. Roads were built with minimum overlay to merely improve quality. Now roads are designed for a life span of 20 years and proper crust thickness is provided that are long-lasting.
A sustainable pavement is a durable one that minimises the use of energy and renewable resources.
At the ground level, these methods are not getting materialised to the extent desired. The main hindrance in executing these methods is that the agencies involved like the Project Management Consultants, general contractors and the AE authority are not geared up to implement these methodologies. For instance, fly ash which was considered as an industrial waste product in the past, is now increasingly gaining popularity as an important component of concrete mix for infrastructure projects. HCC has made effective use of fly ash in the past for several projects like the Delhi Faridabad Elevated Highway, the Parama Island Flyover in Kolkata and the Bandra Worli Sea Link in Mumbai.
The government has adopted the lane kilometre concept for measuring highways instead of the traditional linear length method which offers a better representation of the activity on ground. The lane kilometer method involves measuring the length of each new lane that is built instead of counting the overall length of the highway. This method will help to capture the actual length of highways constructed in the country and also standardise the system.