Roads: Victim of our Apathy

The invention of roads came into existence when the man started walking on his feet. The early man used to follow the paths carved by animals. He used these paths for travelling, hunting, and during battle times. These roads were natural, temporary, unpaved and muddy in nature. With the invention of wheel, good roads for their movement became necessary and hence the condition of roads improved to some extent. With the advancement in technology, new inventions and discoveries made man curious about the roads and he started thinking about their development. He started constructing hard crusted surfaces over the natural soil for the purpose of providing a stable and even surface for vehicles. The hard surface is given a term “pavement”. The pavement supports and distributes the wheel loads and provides an adequate wearing surface. The main purpose of providing pavement is to provide as stable, non-yielding surface for movement of heavy vehicles. The Romans were first to build paved roads by placing large rock blocks over ground surface giving it a shape of turtle shell. But with time, these rock blocks were gradually replaced by the boulders and rock fragments. Then came the time when water bound macadamized roads were made as pavement. The conditions of these roads were good with lot of comfort as compared to previous ones. With the increase in life standards and increase in research works done by scientists, the standard of roads also increased proportionately. Then, bitumen/asphalt flexible pavements came into existence. These are built up in several layers. The soil material beneath the pavement is known as “sub grade”. Sub base is built over the sub grade and the base is constructed over the sub base. The top layer is known as surfacing which is usually of bitumen. These roads can resist only very small tensile stress because of limited rigidity. Any deformation of sub grade results in the corresponding change in the pavement surface. These types of roads are cheap, comfortable, easy to construct and less time consuming. These can be used within few hours after construction. Currently these types of road pavements are used in developing countries like in India. These are also called fair weather roads because they can’t withstand the harsh weather conditions like heavy rain fall, snowfall, hot and humid weather.
In India, these types of roads pavements cover almost every part of India. India is a developing country. And roads play an important role in the development of any country. Roads are considered as life-line of a country. They are used in transportation, exchange of goods and services. Their condition is more important during war times in which their use is to serve for transportation of troops, weapons, goods and many things. Among various modes of transportation, roadways are considered first among all these modes of transportation for their movement. India is spending a lot on the development of roadways. But the present condition of roads in our country seems to be in the worst case scenario except few roads of national and international importance.
We live in Kashmir where the most roads are in state of failure. These are mostly affected by snowfall, precipitation and sub-zero temperatures. This causes freezing and thawing of roads resulting in cracks, pot holes, fissures and other road failures. Construction of roads without following the codal specifications (book prepared by researchers and engineers showing standard of materials to be used, quantity of materials, proper slope thickness of pavement, sub grade, base sub grade to be provided and guidelines to be followed during construction). Improper camber without considering specifications and codal provisions leads to failure of pavement. So, proper follow up of rules and norms according to specifications is necessary for the long life of the roads. Absence of effective drainage system in the roads which can drain out the storm water from the roads is another cause. At few places, if there is any so called drain system present it is defunct (not in working conditions to carry water). Usually, the failure of these drains is mainly due to choking, insufficient capacity, improper slope, poor materials used. So, proper drainage system working efficiently both on main roads as well as in small streets roads is necessary to save our roads from damage. Proper drainage system not only save our roads from deterioration by taking out storm water out but also carries out waste water from households and industries thus preventing any health hazards.
Recently in 2019 we have witnessed one of the most serious drainage failure in the Srinagar city centre-Lal chowk which almost flooded the maximum area of Lal chowk especially Ghanta Ghar area. So, if this is the situation of so called City, then the situation at far off places would not be a difficult guess. Corruption among Govt. departments, negligence of engineers, contractors, failure of competent authorities in checking the standards of constructed roads according to guidelines and provisions has added to the administrative and technical causes of road failure. Clearance of bills without any prior inspection of the quality of work becomes a reason for contractors for violating the norms. Most people wash their car along road side which leads to water accumulation over roads due presence of no drainage system causing freezing and thawing to the wearing coat. High moisture content plays an excellent role in deterioration of bitumen’s pavements. It decreases the bonding capability of bitumen with the aggregates thus resulting in segregation of aggregates from the bitumen leading to road pavement failure. The roofs of houses having slope towards road drain the rainwater intercepted by them on roads.
Engineers should be responsible and honest toward their duty of checking the standards of roads as per norms specifications during construction. Government departments should be strict toward proper inspections and quality check of roads. Recently government has taken an excellent initiative by not paying bills to the contractors for at least 3 years and clearing their bills only after the inspection authorities are satisfied the condition and quality of roads. This will surely prevent the contractors from using sub-standard material in road construction and also refrain from ill construction practices. Society also owes responsibility towards the care of roads which are public properties. They should question and inquire about standard of road materials used during their construction and also inform the concerned authorities about any mischievous activities being carried out by the construction agencies. People should also refrain from those activities that cause harm to the roads. Slope of the roofs must not be towards the road, if circumstances do not allow it sometimes, then proper drainage traps and channels (parnells) must be provided so that the rainwater is properly drained off to a suitable area/underground drainage systems.
In countries like Germany, Britain, America and China, social as well as political will has transformed their nation from developing to developed. They first eradicated the roots of corruption from their country. Then they analysed their problems and attempted to redress them through scientific and logical methods. In case of roads, researchers found that bitumen adhesion with aggregates is very sensitive to the moisture content of the subgrade. Since, we cannot control the moisture content of subgrade, they found alternative to this menace of frequent road deterioration wherever necessary in the form of rigid pavements (also called all weather roads) which can withstand harsh weather conditions. These are made of cement concrete as concrete layer is quite strong, sub base may not be required. The rigid pavements have high flexural strength and are resistant to high tensile stresses. The pavements are capable of bridging small depressions in the subgrade. They have high life span, less failure and easy to repair. These are costly in construction but are cheaper in the long run as they need less or no maintenance.
At last, in order to prevent our roads from frequent deterioration and save public money, first we have to completely eradicate the evil of corruption in its bud. Second, invest more and more in research based practices and methods, use proper codal norms and standards during constructions. Strict vigil by the enforcement agencies regarding the standard and quality of work being done by the contractors etc. is necessary to prevent the mischievous contractors and officials from wasting the public money. And last, society needs to be at forefront in highlighting the mismanagement, ill-practices and non adherence to the norms by various agencies before appropriate platforms.
—(Author is B.E in Civil Engineering from SSM College of Engineering and can be reached at [email protected])

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