SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In New Zealand’s Christ-church, I watched workers prepare a stretch of earthquake-damaged pavement for a fresh layer of asphalt.

The pavement sank several inches and cracked when the Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South Island was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on Feb. 22 last year. The quake destroyed Christchurch’s famous landmark, the Anglican ChristChurch, together with much of the city center and its road network.

When I arrived in the city, the soil on the damaged road stretch had just been leveled by heavy equipment. I could see metal rods under the layer of soil. Sand and gravel were poured in, and then everything was leveled again, with the soil surface smooth.

The next day before noon, the entire stretch was doused with water, and then left to dry in the Canterbury sun. The entire stretch was even.

I was told that the whole thing would be left to dry completely before asphalt would be laid, most likely the next day. This would ensure the durability of the pavement.

Several areas of Christchurch still lie in ruins. In the coastal area where the earthquake devastated hillside residential communities, shipping containers have been installed to stop further rockslides as aftershocks continue to hit the city.

Where the earthquake failed to inflict damage, asphalt pavement in Christchurch is smooth.

Contrast their repair process with the way we repave damaged roads. A city engineer in one of Metro Manila’s cities once told me that for durability, asphalt must be laid at high temperature, in the afternoon heat, and then allowed sufficient time to dry.

I’m no civil engineer like him, but he may be right. In Manila, asphalt is laid even at night. Maybe there’s new technology to ensure the durability of the pavement even under such circumstances. But it’s more common in Metro Manila to see asphalt pavement disintegrating in the first heavy rain and flood. Within a week, a newly repaved road can look like a lunar surface.

To be fair, Christchurch doesn’t get the kind of torrential flooding and typhoons that plague the Philippines regularly. New Zealand gets tornadoes, although not the enormous twisters that rip across the United States. But the Kiwis get snow, which can also be harsh on pavement. And in Metro Manila, many areas that aren’t flood-prone also have lousy roads.

Our road network is a crazy quilt. It’s not unusual to see patches of asphalt and concrete lumped together along one short stretch of pavement. Where there are no potholes, it’s not unusual to see perfectly fine pavement being destroyed and then repaired several times a year.

Studies conducted by the World Bank show that road projects are among the biggest sources of corruption in developing countries.

In our country, the pork barrel system wreaks havoc on any nationally coordinated, long-term planning for road development.

The Department of Public Works and Highways routinely vies with revenue-generating agencies as one of the most corrupt government offices. But DPWH officials have also groused that through the pork barrel system, lawmakers have imposed on the department contractors that do not meet qualifications to undertake roads and other public works projects. Road repairs are among the biggest sources of fat commissions for politicians.

The result is a patchwork of substandard pavement that must be repaired, often a few times every year, at great cost to taxpayers.

Like airports, the road network says a lot about a country’s level of economic development. In this part of the world, we have one of the worst road networks.

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President Aquino has been vocal in his praise of DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson.

P-Noy should ask the DPWH chief what happened to that extensive repair of Roxas Boulevard in late April, in preparation for the 45th annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank.

The May 2-5 meeting went off without a hitch, and Roxas Boulevard, graded and with a fresh layer of about four inches of asphalt, stayed smooth for the remainder of the summer.

But with the onset of heavy rains, potholes quickly started forming, and soon turned into craters throughout the boulevard. The overpass across EDSA had to be repaved and several portions of the boulevard had to be patched up.

With the rains continuing, we’ll probably be seeing more patchwork repairs well into Christmas.

I know that asphalt provides better traction. But if asphalt pavement deteriorates so easily in our environment, wouldn’t concrete roads be more cost-effective? I remember enjoying the smooth drive from downtown Puerto Princesa City in Palawan up to a certain spot on my way to the boat jump-off point for the Underground River.

The concrete road was built by a Korean contractor. Korea has wonderful roads. So do many of our Asian neighbors. Will we ever come close?

In 2015, Manila will host the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. By that time, perhaps P-Noy would want smooth, durable roads to be among the showcases of the Philippines under new management.

A road network riddled with potholes is not daang matuwid at all.











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