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Road expansion: When the going gets rough

KATHMANDU, NOV 08 - After a long lull brought about by the festive season, and a direct inspection by a team formed by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, the road expansion drive is gearing up again. However, that old adage ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ seems an apt description of the melee surrounding the reconstruction of the demolished roads.

Although the authorities have regular meetings every two weeks where they claim to be supportive of each other, the condition of the road on the ground tells a different story. Stakeholders seem intent on pointing fingers over whose work comes first. While the utility poles have been a thorn-in-the-side for those carrying out the reconstruction, finding contract workers has been equally difficult for those who own the utilities. Underground pipelines are a problem for black toppers while the haphazard demolition remnants and debris are cited as obstacles by the pipeline workers.

Sanjay Upadhyay, chief of the Road Department at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, blames the authorities for the slow pace of work. “The government should have just appointed one authority to head the project. With a sole authority as head, it would be easier to assign work and time to complete the work. Now, everything is jumbled. Even if we try to only do what has been assigned to us, there is no coordination,” says Upadhyay. At the moment, the KMC has been assigned to construct five different roads stretching nine kilometres. The construction of smaller roads totalling 14 kilometres are still in the pipeline.

Upadhyay claims that although they had planned to blacktop the roads now, they had to postpone it to December, until the utility poles are removed. “We had planed to complete the roads by this month but since the poles have not been removed, we cannot blacktop the roads,” says Upadhyay.

After a direct order from the government, the Nepal Telecom (NT) and the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) had undertaken a few initiatives to remove the poles within a month’s time. If the poles aren’t removed within the next two weeks, experts claim that with incoming cold weather, blacktopping the roads wouldn’t be possible for the next few months.

“If the surface temperature goes below 14 degrees, the blacktopping will not be effective or durable as we lack the technology to blacktop roads below this temperature,” says Gopal Khadka of the Kathmandu Road Division at the Department of Roads (DoR). The Kathmandu Road Division has been assigned 18 roads, out of which only the Maitidevi-Setopul stretch and smaller strips in Chabahil and the Balaju bypass have been completed. Currently, a total of 20 kilometres has been assigned to the division.

It is not just the stakeholders that are complaining about the expansion. Pedestrians, too, are dissatisfied with the newly constructed footpaths and their width, which needs to be a standard size between a minimum of one metre and a maximum of two metres. Some of the new pavements, however, are only 0.9 metres, including the footpath near the Lal Durbar area, outside the Narayanhiti Museum. Officials defend that they haven’t been able to meet standard sizes in places where little space is available. “Half of the previous footpath was consumed by the road but we have tried to meet standards,” says Khadka.

The recent direction by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also states that footpaths and pavements need to be disabled-friendly. However, the new footpaths are difficult for even able-bodied people to traverse, let alone disabled people, due to the congestion. “We have tried our level best to provide smooth footpaths to pedestrians. However, we haven’t been able to make it disabled-friendly,” admits Khadka. Even the new poles ordered by the NEA aren’t disabled-friendly as they are flat-faced and can cause accidents, claims Khadka. “Although this issue has been raised many times in meetings, NEA authorities have their own problems as they cannot send the poles back and order new ones,” said Khadka.

Additionally, disregarding drivers, pedestrians and the disabled, a long-awaited dream for Kathmandu cyclists will most probably not materialise. Kathmandu as a utopia for cyclists with dedicated cycle lanes is turning out to be a pipe dream. If the roads are not reconstructed soon and pedestrians not accommodated, the roads will turn into a free-for-all.


Posted on: 2012-11-09 08:51

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