Who is to blame for bad roads in Russia?

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Who is to blame for bad roads in Russia?
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What measures should be taken to increase the inter-maintenance period for roads? This topic was discussed by the participants of the multi-sectoral conference, “Bitumen and PBB: actual issues in 2016”.

Recently we published an article following the general conference of the “Rosavtodor” Federal Road Agency (FRA), “The results of 2015 - plans and prospects for 2016 – 2017”. Among other problems, the issue of introducing a 12-year inter-maintenance period for Russian roads was discussed.

Experts and road constructors discussed this issue in details at the multi-sectoral conference, “Bitumen and PBB: actual issues in 2016”, which took place in Saint Petersburg. What prevents us from achieving peak performance? And what is to be done in order for it to be necessary to repair roads only once per dozen years?


It seems so simple: apply modern, high quality materials while constructing roads in such a way that they can do without capital repairs for 12 years (to remind you, an inter-maintenance period means the absence of capital repairs, but not remedial work, for the period). Another absolute necessity is following the production process and adopting the corresponding regulation documents.

Finally, it is necessary to organize efficient coordination and interaction between all the project’s participants, preferably online.

To analyze to situation, we should follow the chain consisting of all the participants of any road construction project’s implementation.

We shall shortly remind you of the role of each of them.


Who are the players?

The investor who orders the construction pays for the work. The project organiser forms the project for the future road. The government expert review grants permission for its implementation. The contractor implements the adopted plan in concrete and asphalt.

At the same time, the construction materials deliverers work with the contractors: to deliver bitumen concrete plants, polymer-bitumen binder producers, and inert aggregates. The technical supervisor controls the quality of the construction and assembly work.

The next player – an operating entity – receives a finished object, and works on its further exploitation, operating repairs and the main service and maintenance.

The regulatory authority for the whole process is the RF Ministry of Transportation.

And now, let’s consider how all the participants interact and define the boundaries within which each of them works towards the final result.


A project designer

At the designing stage, specialists work on several main tasks at once. Firstly, they are to fulfill the work at a high level of quality and within the adopted finances – that is, within the cost included in the federal target program. A project with excessive financing won’t even be adopted for consideration.

If standard methods are applied in designing, this minimizes further problems in the expertise stage.

An experienced project designer developing the project documents takes into consideration only the decisions likely to be implemented after the decrease in estimated costs following the result of the expert’s assessment (i.e. about 20%) and after the tender wherein potential contractors traditionally reduce their prices in the struggle for job (i.e. about 10% further).


Expert review

The task of the government expert review is to assess objectively the suggested design solutions and the rational expenditure of budget funds.

The thing is that if you come to the experts with a project which includes polymer-bitumen binders, geosynthetics and other innovation materials, you will have to defend your choices.

Old materials are more reliable. Besides this, standard projects provoke less attention from law-enforcement authorities. This means that all innovations may stop at this stage.

If a designer is determined to pass the designing stage with adopted innovation technologies, he will have to carry out serious work with branch producers in order to validate and promote his innovations.

For example, he will have to prove that the application of PBB will both increase the quality of the road surface and significantly prolong its life cycle.

But this process is very labour-intensive. Only a few project design organizations can follow this path.


The contractor is the one who fulfills the work. He receives the adopted project design documentation and, coming to the construction site, solves the problem of materials delivery within the road’s contracted cost as defined within the course of the tender. His main task is to build the object within the adopted financing and schedule, to undergo technical surveillance and to observe the guarantee terms.

When the construction and guarantee terms are over, the contractor is no longer interested in the object, or at least it is thus in Russia.


Bitumen concrete plants

Bitumen concrete and asphalt producers are concerned with PBB and that other necessary materials always be at hand so that their plants can buy enough components at a competitive price. They are not always interested in durability – their task is to produce, sell and get through quality control, and that is all. The sooner they get the next order for materials for repairs, the better. Such is our day-to-day reality.

Construction supervision

The task of construction surveillance is to carry out the work to ensure that the road will function at least until the end of the contractor’s guaranteed term and that there will be no claims addressed to the construction surveillance engineers.

There are sometimes clear technological violations. For example, an object is commissioned in December, although all specialists know that asphalt must not be laid in winter in any region of the country because of the low temperatures. However, depending on the terms of commissioning an object, this has happened. Even with such violations, an object usually survives the guaranteed term, but it still usually lasts fewer than 12 years.


Operating organization

What do we have as a result? After passing all these stages, the operating organization is provided with a road whereby the interests of the designer, contractor and operator have never intersected over the course of construction. This is the root of all our troubles, and until the process remains unintegrated, and each of the participants’ work is only limited to their obligations without being part of a greater whole, the situation won’t change.

What might change it? According to industry experts, only the general target. That is:general responsibility at every stage of work and for the object as a whole until the end of the inter-maintenance period without capital repair.


What is to be done?

How is this tricky task to be fulfilled? The proposals from the conference’s participants were summarised for our journal by Oleg Sapronov, managing partner of one of the companies dealing with road infrastructure design and engineering.

* It is necessary to tighten the grip of modern regulation documentation application.

* An operating organization should be introduced into the list of commissioning parties. According to the experts, this will sort out a lot of problems at once, taking into account that the operating stage is longer and more expensive than the design stage, lasting from half a year to a year and a half.

* An operating project should be fulfilled together with the project design. Nobody does this now, but it should include asphalt-concrete surface replacement maintenance terms, drainage cleaning and other work as fulfilled by the operators.

* A more feasible system of expert design decision-making should be created. Besides costs, one of the decisive factors is the conditions for further exploitation depending on the climatic zone, the technical load and the road category.

* A customer should include the demand for PBB application in the order for design and construction. This will sort out a lot of design problems while facilitating the passing of the expert assessment.

* The methodology of incoming materials (including PBB and bitumen) quality assessment should be clearly developed and adopted. Too few parameters for road construction materials are currently included.

* Operating organizations should be involved in technical design assignment drafting and adoption.

* A contractor should perform repair work only in correspondence with the regulations on materials developed at the stage of project design.

* Express-check methodology for quality checking of the products delivered to the construction site should be developed.

* A producers’ certification system should be adopted.

* Scientific and research activity in the sphere of road construction and operation should be more active.

On fulfilling these demands, according to the expert community’s combined efforts, the industry will achieve a 12-year-long term of operation for Russian roads, without the need for repairs.

It is now up to the authorities to make a decision.

Prepared by Stanislav DONIN