TOO MANY ROAD­WORKS, TOO LIT­TLE CO­OR­DI­NA­TION?

Sin­ga­pore has to find ways to make its roads great again.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - CON­SULT­ING EDI­TOR CHRISTO­PHER TAN

WWHEN the Land Trans­port Author­ity (LTA) was formed in 1995, one of its stated ob­jec­tives was to co­or­di­nate road­works so as to min­imise in­con­ve­nience and wastage.

Clearly, a wor­thy ob­jec­tive, as road­works – or road open­ings as traf­fic engi­neers call them – im­pact traf­fic flow sig­nif­i­cantly. Has the LTA achieved that aim? There are now more than 10,000 road open­ings a year, up 25 per­cent from a decade ago, and al­most 100 per­cent from the early 1990s. Th­ese do not in­clude di­ver­sions caused by MRT projects, or dis­rup­tions caused by projects which are de­layed (such as the Brad­dell Fly­over). The steep in­crease sug­gests that co­or­di­na­tion can be im­proved. But it might not be all the LTA’s do­ing.

The seem­ingly re­lent­less pro­lif­er­a­tion of road open­ings can be linked to sev­eral causes. Sin­ga­pore’s lofty am­bi­tion to bury all its power and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion lines, in­stead of run­ning them over­head along poles like in many other coun­tries, is one.

Next, Sin­ga­pore’s ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment drive. Be­cause of changes in plot ra­tios, land use zon­ing, and other fac­tors, rel­a­tively new build­ings – often en­tire es­tates – are torn down to make way for new de­vel­op­ments.

This trend ne­ces­si­tates the dig­ging up of roads to re-lay cables, pipes, drainage and sew­ers. Also, the scale of our so-called col­lec­tive sales is un­sur­passed by any other city in mod­ern times. The LTA chairs a Road Open­ing Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee, which meets reg­u­larly to co­or­di­nate all util­ity works that re­quire the open­ing of roads. The ob­jec­tive is to min­imise the num­ber of such works and the pos­si­ble in­con­ve­nience they may cause to all road users. The com­mit­tee also en­sures that newly resur­faced roads will not be opened for a pe­riod of at least one year after the com­ple­tion of the resur­fac­ing work, while newly con­structed or up­graded roads will not be opened for at least two years from the com­ple­tion date of the project. The LTA says th­ese stan­dards still ap­ply to­day, even if the mul­ti­tude and fre­quency of road­works sug­gest oth­er­wise. That the resur­fac­ing works are often poorly done makes things worse.

Torque un­der­stands that the patchy resur­fac­ing works are tem­po­rary – the LTA will do a com­plete and proper resur­fac­ing once all road open­ings along a stretch are done. Per­haps be­cause there are so many road open­ings to­day com­pared to a decade or two ago, com­plete resur­fac­ing does not oc­cur as promptly as be­fore. Sin­ga­pore had high­qual­ity tar­mac. But to­day, even new roads are less than smooth. For in­stance, the $1.8 bil­lion Kal­lang-Paya Le­bar Ex­press­way (KPE) was bumpy from the time it opened in 2008.

Is the state of our roads yet an­other ex­am­ple of fail­ing in­fra­struc­ture that has be­fallen Sin­ga­pore of late?

Rail, lifts, es­ca­la­tors, drainage, parts of build­ings – they have all made head­lines for the wrong rea­sons in the last five to 10 years.

Is this a new qual­ity con­trol prob­lem we are see­ing? Or is this a sign of past lapses which have taken time to man­i­fest them­selves?

Ei­ther way, Sin­ga­pore has to ad­dress th­ese is­sues swiftly – even if they are not symp­to­matic of an en­demic prob­lem – if it is to re­tain its com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion as a good place to live, work and play in. As for the thou­sands of road open­ings, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Min­istry had sug­gested in the early 1990s that Sin­ga­pore should build com­mon ser­vices tun­nels as a solution. So far, only one has been built, in Ma­rina Bay. A 20km net­work of tun­nels hous­ing wa­ter pipes, elec­tri­cal and data cables, cool­ing pipes and a refuse con­vey­ing sys­tem en­sure that any work done on th­ese util­i­ties need not dis­rupt the sur­face world. An­other is pro­posed for the Jurong Lake District re­de­vel­op­ment. Why aren’t there more? High cost may be one rea­son. The Ma­rina Bay net­work cost well over $100 mil­lion. But it would be money well spent, be­cause the dis­rup­tions and de­lays caused by road open­ings are eco­nom­i­cally costly as well. Not to men­tion the ac­tual en­gi­neer­ing cost of such open­ings.

If Sin­ga­pore aims to be­come a megac­ity, it must find a way to cur­tail road open­ings be­cause their ad­verse im­pact will be greater as the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion den­sity in­creases.

THE AD­VERSE IM­PACT OF ROAD­WORKS WILL BE GREATER AS SIN­GA­PORE’S POP­U­LA­TION DEN­SITY IN­CREASES.

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