Potholes and politics: Fixing Malaysia's roads requires more than patchwork solutions

Experts call for action on aging infrastructure

28 Jan 2024 08:45am
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Edited via Canva
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Edited via Canva

SHAH ALAM - Road experts stress the importance of regular maintenance for aging roads, citing factors such as water damage, heavy vehicle usage, and frequent travel to ports as contributors to their deterioration.

Former Public Works Department (JKR) director-general Datuk Seri Roslan Md Taha pointed out that it is crucial to note that the quality and materials used for federal and state roads differ from those used for highways, a factor often overlooked in discussions about road maintenance.

“In general, our roads, particularly federal roads constructed long before our independence in 1957, require regular maintenance due to decades of wear and tear.

"However, the ongoing challenge lies in finding effective solutions for the proper and consistent upkeep of our roads.

“Various factors cause potholes and uneven surfaces, and water plays a significant role as it can be detrimental to engineering.

"Rain, heavy vehicles, overloaded lorries, and well-travelled roads, especially those heading to ports, contribute to this issue.

“We (JKR) follow a maintenance schedule for federal roads, with annual allocations from the federal government.

"However, the shared allocation with state roads creates complications due to limited funds,” he told Sinar Daily when contacted.

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Roslan also mentioned that identifying roads needing repair is JKR’s routine work, but the constrained funds further complicate matters.

“When I served as Negeri Sembilan’s JKR director, despite an annual allocation of around RM2 billion, the actual disbursement often fell short, with the most received being only RM800 million.

“Such limitations hinder the effective execution of road maintenance projects,” he added.

Roslan also explained that political influences exacerbate the situation, with favoritism playing a role in prioritising certain areas, neglecting others based on political affiliations.

He said that a technical and fair approach is necessary, free from political biases when it comes to solving this issue.

“Addressing the issue of potholed roads requires a shift in our approach.

"Proactive measures, such as regular inspections to identify and fix potential problems before they escalate, should be prioritised.

“However, limited funds pose challenges to implementing such preventive measures,” Roslan said.

He also mentioned that he does not place blame on lorry drivers and logistics companies that adhere to regulations.

“Nevertheless, I strongly condemn those lorry drivers who knowingly and deliberately overload their vehicles, as well as companies that compel their drivers to engage in such selfish practices.

“Yet, the undeniable reality is that everyone strives for profit, driven by self-interest.

"Companies seek to minimise expenses and maximise profits by reducing the number of trips, while lorry drivers, likely pursuing trip quotas and performance indicators, see increased trips as a potential avenue for greater earnings.

“Even in the event of police intervention and fines, the company often shouldered the financial consequences rather than the individual drivers.

“Perhaps we should implement more stringent laws to address this issue.

"Such self-centered behaviours not only fail to benefit anyone but, in fact, pose a danger to the public,” he added.

Roslan also stated that our roads mustn't become hazardous to road users.

He also believed that when individuals take the initiative to address potholes and uneven roads, and when community figures like Azlan Sani, known as Lando Zawawi and his organisation invest their personal funds for community improvement, it casts a negative light on the government, creating an unfavorable image.

“This highlights the need for more robust government initiatives to address road maintenance comprehensively,” Roslan said.

Echoing Roslan's statement, transport engineering expert and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Vice Chancellor Datuk Professor Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah shed more light on the complexities of the matter.

“Pothole recurrence can be attributed to poor workmanship during road construction and surfacing, leading to disintegration influenced by weather conditions and excessive loads.

“Overloaded vehicles, especially surpassing pavement design loads, significantly contribute to pothole formation.

“The combination of these factors, along with water ponding and an uneven surface, increases the likelihood of potholes on the road,” Farhan explained.

He also noted that it is disheartening when individuals, who dutifully pay road taxes, are involved in accidents due to potholes, bearing the burden of covering damages, ranging from financial losses to injuries and fatalities.

Farhan also said the ongoing challenge appears linked to funding limitations faced by road authorities, emphasising concerns about resource allocation and the urgent need for a permanent solution.

Plus, he expressed his strong belief that any individual found guilty of corruption, particularly involving embezzlement from funds allocated for repairing potholed roads, should face severe consequences.

“There is no room for tolerance when it comes to corruption cases,” he added.

“Tackling the problem of lorry drivers intentionally overloading trucks, often coerced by companies, necessitates more effective enforcement.

"It's crucial for individuals and companies to grasp the substantial damage overloaded lorries cause to the road surface.

“In my opinion, prioritising stringent enforcement and raising awareness of the impact on road infrastructure are essential steps in resolving this matter.

“While the authorities have the primary responsibility, financial sanctioning agencies must also share similar concerns and priorities to ensure a collaborative effort in effectively addressing and resolving such issues.

“Monitoring the progress of patching potholes can be achieved through a combination of surveillance methods, incorporating both manual monitoring and advanced technology.

"The utilisation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance these tracking efforts.

“The effectiveness of patching can be measured by the absence of recurring potholes.

"A successful solution implemented by the government would be evident when potholes are adequately addressed and do not resurface, showcasing the efficiency of the undertaken measures,” Farhan added.