Sunday, July 03, 2011

Lae is on a road to nowhere


On Friday, June 25, while back home in Lae, I took a drive along the city’s infamous roads with regional works manager Brian Alois.

We took a look at Markham Road opposite Lae Showground, Bumbu Road opposite  golf course, Milfordhaven Road opposite Botanical Gardens, the steep hill leading up to town from Voco Point, and the Huon Road leading from town to Eriku.

At first glance, so much for so little, that I felt like breaking down and crying for the people of Lae – me included – who have suffered so much over the years.                                              

I remember a Lae from the 1970s and 1980s that was perfect – before the rot set in – and had no potholes at all

Just last December, acting Prime Minister Sam Abal dished out more than K100 million to a handful of contractors to fix up Lae roads, however, cracks are already appearing in the concrete and water is spilling out from drains.

Contractors are working willy-nilly on their assigned stretches, in an unplanned, haphazard fashion, and there seems to be  no uniformity all over the city.

Compare that to a decade ago when AusAid-funded Barclay worked on the Lae roads?

The Department of Finance, seemingly, has appointed overseas contractor NME International as its engineering supervising consultant for Lae roads with no input whatsoever from Department of Works.

Alois and the works guys, even the city engineer, have no say whatsoever in the Lae roads project.

“That question that arises is that if the national Department of Works or provincial works is not supervising the millions already spent on Lae roads, which agency is responsible?” wonders four-time Lae MP Bart Philemon.

“Going by the project signboards, it would appear that the Department of Finance is now the implementing agency.

“If this observation is correct, then how much this could be?

“Department of Finance is not technically qualified, so how will it depend on the engineering consultant to manage the whole project?

“I believe the Department of Finance appointed NME International as its engineering consultant for Lae roads project.

“It means that the government has now delegated or offloaded its responsibilities to this private company in preference to its own implementing agencies.”

“The company, NME International, is now totally responsible for everything that takes place.”

What is painfully obvious to all is that there is no overall design for total Lae roads upgrading, with all engineering designs being different, each contractor having his own design.

Alois concurs with Philemon, and during our drive, pointed out some things that were lacking on Lae roads including utilities, road furniture, street lights, dumping of spoils and physical planning approval.

“There are no provisions for relocation of utilities such as water, telephone lines and power poles, etc,” he says.

“Consideration should have been given to these respective service agencies to firstly, relocate the infrastructure and secondly, make provisions for future extensions/installations, etc.

“Once the roads are concreted, it would be near difficult to carry out works on the relocation, maintenance and installation of service utilities.”

Road furniture

“Every road has to have them and apart from the many other functions, they are there to promote road safety for vehicles and pedestrians as well,” Alois says.

“Importantly, we have not allowed for accessibility for people with disabilities (wheelchairs); compare the previously upgraded roads by AusAID and these current works.”

Street lights

“Every modern city has to have street lights and these were installed when AusAID funded the roadworks before.

“In these current works, there are no street lights and we say all the time that Lae is not only the second city, it is the industrial hub.”

Dumping of spoils

“We are dumping all the spoils dug up from the roads into the sea at the DCA beach and that is not good environmental management.

“If these works were planned properly, then my suggestion would be to do river training works on the Bumbu, and use the spoils as backfills and that way we can reclaim some of the land that was eroded over the years by the Bumbu River.

“Institutions like National Polytechnic (Lae Tech), Bumbu Barracks, CIS Buimo and streets along the Cassowary Roads have suffered loss of land.

“So instead of dumping the spoils and polluting the sea, we could have made good use to reclaim and at the same time protect further erosion.

Physical planning approval

“I am sure that no physical planning approval was given for the current works unlike the previous works by AusAID.

“So we have broken the procurement laws (no tender, variations exceeding maximum limits etc), and also the physical development laws.”

Alois says entry into Lae can be through ends or gateways: From the Highlands Highway at Bugandi and from Bukawa Road through Busu Bridge.

“These two roads that lead into Lae City are classified as national roads; the Highlands Highway as it traverses into the city rides on Markham Road then onto Milfordhaven Road ending at the Lae Port, while the Bukawa Road rides on to Malahang/Busu Road terminating at the Malahang Industrial Centre,” he adds.

“I’d like to believe that there is no road classification for the network of roads here in Lae.

“Needless to say, it is necessary, in view of the traffic volume and high maintenance costs, that we categorise our roads into their primary functions.

“This means that we must, in the first instance, assign roads according to what we want them to deliver in terms of traffic.

“We must have different classification of roads that are designed and constructed for the different types of traffic that we would expect would use them.

“The suggested road classifications can be:

·         Class A main arterial roads;

·         Class B link roads;

·         Class C industrial roads;

·         Class D residential roads; and

·         Class E central business roads.

“At the same time, we must emphasise on nominated routes for our public transport system.”

Alois, apart from being the regional works manager, is also the president of the Institute of Engineers PNG Lae branch and a board member to Institute of Engineers PNG Board and Professional Engineers Registration Board.

Meantime, Lae continues to be heading on the road to nowhere!

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