Sunday , 17 February 2019

DESIGNER ROADS: Integrating networked services under the road and pedestrian comforts

Unfortunately, in Bangalore (and most cities), these multiple services are run by different civic agencies. The BBMP is in charge of the road works. The BWSSB is in charge of the water and sewage. BESCOM in charge of power lines, KPTCL in charge of major power transmission. The Traffic police in charge of traffic and surveillance infrastructure. The telecom has BSNL (central government), and many private players regulated by the BBMP.

Each one of these agencies builds its infrastructure in silo, through its own individual contractors, without knowledge or consideration to the networks of other agencies. Every time there is a problem, the road is dug up and costs are incurred. In such a broken system, what we see as users of the roads is nothing but chaos: badly designed roads, poorly constructed underground systems, and repeated cut-relaying-cut expenses.

Solving this was the core idea behind Tender SURE: fix both the road, and also what under the road with an integrated road design, and we fix the problem. Instead of spending seven times cutting up the same road for each service, Tender SURE ensures integration, and a one-time spend, thereby saving three times the cost over a ten-year timeframe.

For the first time in urban India, this level of detailed design and technical drawings have been produced for city roads. Over 2000 construction drawings went into the first set of roads – detailing every single line and square foot of the roads and intersections and any subsequent revisions due to ground conditions or agency changes. This level of detail is possible only after multiple iterations with each individual agency involved, and complete internalization of the challenges on the ground, and the technical solutions to these challenges.

What have been the challenges?

The execution of the Tender SURE project was filled with complex challenges from day one. Many of these challenges were due to the design integration efforts needed across multiple civic agencies: this was the first time that different agencies were coming together to make joint decisions, and that too, in a time-bound manner.

Einstein said insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result each time. Our responses to our bad roads have been like this: not trying anything different, but simply repeating our past mistakes and expecting different outcomes.

The lack of reliable institutional knowledge of the road assets owned by each civic agency, or any records on such assets, made the challenges a day-to-day fire-fighting exercise.

We would suddenly discover (on road cutting) a water main bringing in water to the entire city or a high-tension power line that nobody knew about. We would find missing sections of sewer lines, properties that didn’t have sewage connections but were letting them into the storm water drains, and hundreds of instances of crossed lines between power and telecom and water supply, networks that were virtually impossible to untangle. Given that each of these was a ‘live’ connection, it was not possible to simply cut the lines and create a more logical network. All these needed to be factored real-time into the design drawings, which needed to be changed to reflect such new realities, without which the contractor could not proceed with coherence.

As a result of all this, the field and design support to the contractor to enable good execution, was unimaginably complex. The learning process was also a factor, given the pioneering nature of the project.

In 2015, the chief minister inaugurated the first completed Tender SURE road and said, “I was told that the footpaths are too wide, but now when I see them after completion I am convinced they need to be this wide. Pedestrians need to be taken care of. I think this is the way forward for Bengaluru. I am announcing 50 more roads under Tender SURE.”

The construction complexities during the first roads, caused short term pain for citizens. The provision of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure was highly criticised initially.

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