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B.Bayanmunkh: Annual fee will provide significant contributions to road upgrades

By M.ZOLJARGAL

Complaints and criticism of road construction companies is very common in Mongolia, as new roads tend to deteriorate immediately after their completion.

Road contractors state that a lack of financing is one of the main reasons for poor quality roads. To build new roads with high standards, the foundation of the old road must be completely removed. But due to insufficient financing, most roads are built on top of the old roads, where the soil underneath has started deteriorating and shifting.

The surfaces of most roads located near rivers or lakes swell up during the winter as the soil underneath contracts and cracks, or forms bumps during the summer as the soil expands, according to experts. Therefore, new roads built on top of the old ones cannot be expected to last long.

A lack of financing, professional workers, and plans and research have become a major issue for the auto road sector.

 

The following is an interview with B.Bayanmunkh, a member of the managing board of the Association for Protecting the Rights and Interests of Road Officials (APRIRO), about pressing road issues.    
-According to your organization, the rights and interests of road officials are being violated. Can you tell us exactly how they are being violated?

-Since our country shifted into a free-market in 1990, training programs for  specialized roadofficials has been basically forgotten. There are very few professional engineers specialized in road construction today in Mongolia. As road businesses lack professionals, they hire untrained young people from the provinces for construction who have no prior experience. Outdated road legislations, low assessments, and insufficient financing are typically responsible for poor quality roads as well.

Road constructions can only proceed for a few months during the warm seasons, which means more than half of each year cannot be used for road construction. But road businesses provide salaries for their professional engineers even in winter to keep them in their position. This weighs heavily on businesses, as they must complete road projects with already insufficient budgets.

Due to a shortage of investment, new roads in Ulaanbaatar are all paved on old pavings which have been repaired, instead of reconstruction from scratch. That is why roads break down very quickly.

In the city, so-called “road reform” is actually just  road repair. For instance, a “new” road was built from Bayanburd Traffic Circle to 100 Ail in 2009. Due to an insufficient budget, the construction company couldn’t remove the old road. The company built two layers of pavement on top of the old one. But this road broke the following winter, after only a few months. As usual, the media and residents criticized only the road contractor.

People always ask, “How could they build a low quality road with a large amount of financing?” But the cause for the damage is very obvious and to be expected, as the foundation was  already broken in the first place. Still, only constructors take the blame. Similarly, the rights and interests of road officials are violated all the time. I am absolutely positive that our national road constructors can build high quality roads if they are provided with a sufficient amount of financing.

-Can’t road constructors tell financers that the old foundations must be removed before a new road is built for more financing?

-Constructors are not allowed to say that. If they want to win tenders and receive commissions, they have no other option but to hold back their words. And what’s more, road standards practiced in Mongolia must be reformed. Currently, all roads are being constructed with a width of seven meters, which is too narrow for two vehicles, especially for heavy duty trucks to safely intersect. It is one of the main reasons for traffic accidents.

We still have Russian road construction standards, which were used in the 1970s and 1980s, while developed countries around the world are using other modern technologies that require a very short time and small budget. For example, they are removing soil from the intended new road and mixing it with liquid binders to form tougher road foundations. They are building 20 kilometers of road in 20 days. We have no other option but to adopt the latest road technologies if we want high quality roads.

-How do you think this issue can be resolved?

-Generally, auto road development is very poor in Mongolia. It is good that the government is providing increased financing for road development projects. But it is still lacking. In my view, there is one easy solution, that is to use the annual fee for road usage, which was recently approved for road construction and repair financing. Currently, vehicle owners pay only a tax for vehicle use. Only a very small portion from this tax is used for road repair. But once the annual fee starts collection, it will streamline a couple of billion MNT to local and state road budgets. The state budget allocations for road developments will decrease by a certain amount. Once drivers start to pay annual fees for road use, they will be more considerate of road use as their money will used for the roads.

-The public blames road constructors for building poor quality roads, thinking constructors are embezzling money from their financing. Is it really because of insufficient budget or they are actually embezzling funds?

-As  I have mentioned, to reform and build new roads, we must lay a new foundation. For instance, soil underneath the road in 100 Ail is marshy. We will have to remove soil over a depth of one meter, lay gravel to even the surface and construct a new foundation if we don’t want it to break quickly.

-What factors cause broken roads besides old foundations?
-Heavy duty trucks are the main reason. When the soil underneath roads freeze and melt across the nation in fall and spring, the surface of the roads become fragile and prone to damage. The use of heavy duty trucks should be restricted between March 15 and May 15, and from October 15 to November 15. There are so many heavy duty trucks traveling across Mongolia that are overload. Especially trucks that weigh over 100 tons, which travel from Ulaanbaatar to Dornogobi and Umnugobi frequently. They ruin the roads.
-This year, the project linking Ulaanbaatar to six provinces with paved roads experiecnced a great deal of progress. The Prime Minister was critical of constructors for building low quality roads or taking up too much work that they could not complete it in time. He then divided road construction equally to constructor companies. Was this helpful, in your opinion?

-The New Government for Changes enforced a good road policy that was proposed by the Ministry of Roads and Transportation (MRT). Previously, road construction spanning 100 to 200 km used to be given to only one Chinese road constructor. But this year, many national constructors were given the opportunity to build the roads to province centers. Four national constructors built a 96 km road from Undurkhaan to Choibalsan, three others built a 86 km road from Murun to Tarialan, while another two built a 50 km road from Mandalgobi to Dalanzadgad.

These nine national constructors completed their projects very well. I studied the road constructions projects for the summer of next year while I was on my way to Khuvsgul Province. It was obvious that they worked in very difficult conditions, removing soil and giant stones in mountainous areas. This caused much difficulty for the contractors.


-You have mentioned that young people with no qualifications are being hired from provinces as the city lacks road workers. How bad is the human resource development of this sector?

-The government instructed constructors to hire workers from the regions that they are working in. But the young people they hire are mostly very irresponsible. They go to their homes or drink alcohol during work hours although they receive a good pay, with even assistant workers receiving around one million MNT per month. They lack discipline and the desire to improve their lives.
-Traffic congestion is one of the most pressing issues in Ulaanbaatar. Some say low quality roads are responsible for this. What do you think about it?
-It remains a pressing issue even though several actions were taken against it. But Hong Kong, a little island with 650,000 vehicles, has no traffic congestion problems, while Ulaanbaatar has only 160,000 vehicles that are active regularly. A specific institute that regulates traffic should be established similar to ones in foreign countries. Ulaanbaatar’s roads are narrow and insufficient, while the number of vehicles active are increasing day by day. We must take more effective actions.

Satellite towns should be also be built in Bagakhangai, Baganuur, and Ulziit Microdistrict as part of the urban development of Ulaanbaatar. Once they are developed, highways can be built between them which will help reduce the city’s traffic congestion.

-What can you say about the rumor that constructors are embezzling from road construction projects?

-There is no such thing as embezzling from road projects. As roads are financed by the state budget, road projects are always inspected by the the MRT and State Specialized Inspection Agency.
-The third session of the APRIRO took place on Friday. Can you tell us about the results of the session?

-Currently, the president of the APRIRO, who is a young man, was just reelected, which I think it was a good decision. I think that he will contribute to the development of the road sector as he is a professional and relatively young, not confined to old ways.

 

 

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Posted by on Dec 17 2013. Filed under Domestic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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