Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why are our roads so bad?


Why are our roads so bad? This is a question so many people ask in Malta. This does not only include drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who have to bear the brunt of potholes, shoddy works, bumps and poor infrastructure, but also first-time visitors who are usually surprised to see a Third World infrastructure in an EU member state.
This is a question I myself have been asking for years and which I have been trying to verify ever since I have been a local councillor since 2003.
Like many residents, I have witnessed the disproportionate influence of various contractors who overload their trucks with bricks and debris, thus causing damage to roads and pavements. I also witnessed some examples of bad road works, which were later on tested and found to be in violation of existing standards, thus forcing proper resurfacing. At times, newly resurfaced roads had to be opened up, sometimes due to lack of coordination from government authorities.
I have also witnessed some examples of good workmanship, especially when there is a professional working relationship between council administration, architects and contractors, and when there is proper supervision. Yet, as more time passed, I also witnessed the growing financial constraints of local councils despite having huge responsibilities such as those related to residential roads.
Hence whenever I see roads around Malta in a very bad state, I relate this to one or more of the reasons above. The lack of council funds to maintain degrading roads is however becoming increasingly the case.
Therefore, even when local councils do have professional contractors and architects and proper supervision, the lack of funds may be a limiting factor as regards quality of roads.
Local councils usually have enough funds for the resurfacing of around one or two roads a year
In real terms, and on average, local councils usually have enough funds for the resurfacing of around one or two roads a year, given that council funds must also be used for a myriad of other expenses. At the same time, local councils have no fiscal autonomy and are increasingly dependent on government discretionary schemes.
A normal sized residential road costs around €100,000, including tarmac and new pavements (which would cost, for example, between €15,000 and €20,000), but the cost may vary depending the current state of the road surface. The worse its condition, the higher the cost.
Longer residential roads cost more, with costs going up to between €200,000 and €300,000, and arterial roads obviously cost much more, though the latter can benefit from State and EU funding.
Financial constraints and urgent priorities in different roads sometimes influence local councils to choose to resurface parts of different roads instead of a whole road. Such ‘boxes’ are costly too, sometimes costing between €10,000 and €20,000 each. Besides, local councils also have to pay for smaller patching works, which, cumulatively, cost quite a lot, too.
Besides, there are also other factors which do not seem to help the situation. For example, when developers carryout construction works, they pay Mepa for road works close to the developed site. Most of these funds are transferred to Transport Malta – the authority ironically responsible for arterial roads. So much for decentralisation and local council empowerment.
Is Transport Malta using all such revenue for residential roads? Or is it using some of the money for arterial roads? Or is it using it for other purposes?
Judging by the terrible situation of various roads in localities characterised by ongoing construction, something does not seem to fall in place.
Or maybe Transport Malta is utilising all such funds for residential roads, but there are not enough funds to make up for damages to roads caused by the construction industry. Yet, given that Transport Malta and the Ministry of Transport are not exactly shining examples of good governance and transparency, it really needs to convince the public that the quality of roads is really give the priority it deserves.
Will Minister Joe Mizzi provide comprehensive information regarding what is being done with funds earmarked for residential roads?

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