Experts cite poor planning or design among the reasons for the state of many roads in Karnataka

One can see stark contrast between the condition of Bangalore-Mysore State Highway 17 (143 km) and the 35-km stretch of National Highway 48 between Manjarabad in Hassan district and Gundia in Dakshina Kannada district.

While the former, reconstructed a decade ago, continues to be free of potholes, importantly without any annual resurfacing, the latter is riddled with potholes and craters despite crores of rupees being spent every year for annual maintenance.

The condition of other roads, particularly built and maintained by the Public Works Department (PWD), is no different from that of the Shiradi Ghat stretch.

To name a few, NH 4A between Peerwadi and Goa border in Belgaum district; Gulbarga-Chincholi State Highway in Gulbarga district; Sampaje-Sullia State Highway in Madikeri and Dakshina Kannada districts; Hassan- Chikkanayakanahalli State Highway; NH 4 between Mulbagal and Nangli in Kolar district; Sindhanur-Lingsugur State Highway in Raichur district; Agumbe Ghat stretch in Shimoga district; Subrahmanya- Dharmasthala- Karkala-Udupi State Highway in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts and NH 17 between Kundapura and Shiroor in Udupi district are some of the poorly maintained roads.

PWD officials and road engineering experts are in unison on one aspect — cost limitation on a particular project. If reconstruction of a state highway (two-lane) requires Rs. 1.5 crore a km, the government fixes Rs. 50 lakh a km and asks the department to complete the target. Naturally, there are compromises made in specifications resulting in substandard work, said a senior PWD engineer.

Bad planning or design too adds to the bad condition of roads and the absence of shoulder-drains to carry rainwater obviously damages the roads, he said. Movement of overloaded vehicles contributes to the bad condition of roads, he said.

However, roads constructed or reconstructed under special projects such as Karnataka State Highway Improvement Project (K-SHIP) do not suffer from shortage of funds and hence, they are in good condition, he said.

B.R. Sreenivasa Murthy, retired civil engineering professor of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said that the casual attitude of upgrading existing smaller roads, including minor and major district roads, to state highways, by just adding one or two ft of bitumen layer on either side of the road without strengthening the base is one of the major reasons for the deteriorating condition of the roads.

Also, allocation of fewer funds than the required sum, as claimed by PWD engineers, results in construction of substandard roads, he said.

More than anything, the politician-contractor nexus has to be blamed for the pathetic condition of roads, Prof. Murthy said. A couple of years ago, a Canadian company had shown interest in maintaining about 5,000 km of Bangalore roads by deploying the latest computer-aided machinery and technology.

The company had asked Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike to pay whatever it had been paying earlier to contractors, but to offer the roads for maintenance in bulk. However, this move was scuttled by people’s representatives and even the government was helpless, he said.

Similar is the situation across the State where road building and maintenance have become a major source of regular income for many, Prof. Murthy added.

On the other hand, the government gets works executed by contractors and it does not make payment for a long time.

This severely affects contractors’ finances, said one of the contractors who pointed out that the government owed over Rs. 1,400 crore to contractors till June this year.

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