BIG PLANS FOR A BETTER, SAFER ROAD NETWORK
JICA, ADB and USAID to support upgrades
Anyone who has travelled extensively in Myanmar knows that the roads in mainland Southeast Asia’s largest country are often decrepit and in more remote areas, almost non-existent. In the rainy season some roads can only be navigated by four-wheel drive vehicle.
To facilitate economic growth – the smooth transport of people and goods is essential for development – an upgrade is needed. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is planning a study of the national road network and an assessment of its condition. The study will take years to be completed and no final deadline has been set.
The Asian Development Bank is playing its part, too. The Manila-based ADB is developing a system under which the Ministry of Construction’s Public Works department will undertake upgrades in the coming years, said the bank’s principal transport specialist, Jamie Leather, who is spending much of his time in Myanmar.
What is his general assessment of Myanmar’s roads?
“The road network in Myanmar is lower in terms of coverage area than in other ASEAN countries,” said Mr Leather. “The needs are vast and cover different road types: primary, secondary and tertiary. They basically spread across the whole country. The government has mentioned the need to provide support to the states as they received less support in the past and this would help the peace process.”
The ADB will itself undertake two road projects, both in the preliminary stages: the Maubin-Pyapon road in Ayerwaddy Region and the Eindu-Kawkareik road in Kayin State. “The funding arrangements are not yet finalised,” said Mr Leather.
Road safety is a serious concern as many roads in Myanmar are poorly built, badly lit and lack adequate signage. Data from the World Health Organisation shows an alarming rise in road deaths, which have tripled from 2.5 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2006, to 7.6 in 2013, the latest available figures. Since then the number of cars and trucks imported into country since 2011 has reached about 300,000.
One of the major road safety flashpoints in Myanmar is the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw-Mandalay tollway. The 202-mile (325 kilometres) Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw section was opened in March 2009, after a rushed construction period. The 150mile (240km) Nay Pyi Taw-Mandalay section opened about a year later.
The accident rate on the tollway linking Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw is notoriously high, with traffic police in May reporting more than 360 fatalities since the opening in 2009 of what the media has dubbed the “Death Highway”. From January to April this year there were 147 serious accidents on the tollway, leaving 57 people dead and 262 injured. In the worst single loss of life on the tollway, 14 people died after a highway bus ran off the road and slammed into a bridge on May 12.
A President U Thein Sein inspected the crash site with the Minister of Construction, U Kyaw Lwin. “The President called for a number of improvements, including an upgrade of the bridges along the road, expansion of the highway from four lanes and quick implementation of repair works,” the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar reported.
The daily said upgrade work would focus on six percent of the highway’s length, or about 12 miles, a section identified as a priority by JICA.
JICA, KOICA and the United States Agency for International Development have all been asked to contribute to upgrades on the tollway.
“The government asked us a year and a half ago regarding the Yangon-Mandalay highway,” said USAID mission director Chris Mulligan.
“They asked us: as the US focused its support on roads in the 1950s, can you support infrastructure development again?” Mr Mulligan said.
“We told them we don’t finance roads anymore,” he said.
“What could we bring? We realised it’s not a question of resources but of technical assistance. Our initial step was to provide a technical expert, who worked with a counterpart in the Ministry of Construction to make an assessment of the condition of the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw-Mandalay highway.”
After the assessment was completed, USAID proposed recommendations for meeting safety standards. USAID partnered with the ministry on a program that will provide training in safety and engineering standards for road construction to meet international standards.
Officials inspect the mangled remains of a bus that crashed into a bridge on the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw tollway on May 12, leaving 14 people dead. Photo: Win Ko Ko Latt
Doubling the number of traffic police and introducing a mandatory written test on safe driving theory for driver’s licence applicants would help to improve conditions on the country’s roads, say experts. Photo: Hein Htet