The roads of our city are being put to great pressure and a very few of them manage to stand the strain. In the light of this, the present Council of the Corporation announced a couple of years ago that it would look into the alternative of concrete roads as the panacea. It was resolved at that time that within the next five years, Rs. 2500 crore would be spent on laying 1100 km of concrete roads in Greater Chennai. This would be a long-term solution, said the Government, claiming that concrete roads have an average lifespan of at least 25 years. The new roads, it was promised, would be world-class.
The advantages of switching over to concrete roads are many. Apart from their long life, they also save on fuel, provide for better driving comfort and use cement, a plentifully available commodity in the country. Maintenance costs are also lower. Concrete roads have a small ‘green’ advantage as well. Being white-topped, they reflect light at night which means the intensity of street-lighting can be brought down in terms of wattage.
But there are several drawbacks as well. Bitumen roads also cost only one-fourth of what is the outlay for concrete roads. But more importantly, concrete roads require a long-time period for laying and setting, as much as 28 days for a one km stretch as opposed to a bitumen topped road that requires one-fourth the time. And during the time they are being laid, traffic will have to be completely closed, something that is unthinkable in this city. This became clear when a small stretch on Velacherry Main Road was closed for a month. The road may have had the honour of being the first major thoroughfare to have concrete topping in our city, but it is doubtful if commuters who were forced to take detours felt any joy in this. But it did lead to an important outcome – the Corporation did a rethink on the grade of concrete it is using. It has now decided on a much higher grade, which will set in a day. The downside is that it costs 20 per cent more than the earlier grade of concrete.
The third disadvantage is the impossibility of ever cutting the concrete roads to access drains and cables, something that is common practice in our city. The avoidance of such road-cuts entails proper planning before the roads are laid, with ducts for drains and cables that can be independently accessed. Past experience (MRTS et al) has shown our officialdom of being completely incapable of such coordinated activity. The Corporation in its web site openly names agencies such as Metro Water, BSNL and TANGEDCO (TNEB) as the chief perpetrators of road cuts. To what purpose then are concrete roads?
Next, is concrete a solution for a city like ours? These roads have no dust absorption capacity and so this will only increase the particulate content in the atmosphere. Also concrete being white in colour will radiate heat causing ambient temperature to go up. Is this desirable in Chennai that is already witnessing a steady increase in temperatures during summer?
As to the promise of world-class, it would do our officers and ministers a world of good to drive around and see what is ground reality. Once they see the fashion in which the concrete is being poured and allowed to set, they may pause to think over whether concrete roads may not be complicating an already difficult situation.