NEW DELHI: Potholes may soon be a thing of the past, if the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways goes ahead with the proposal to use thermocol fill as base in place of soil for construction. At present, the ministry is mulling over the suggestion of following the Western model for construction of highways, which will bring down the cost of road construction by 30 per cent and drastically cut down construction time.
The ministry, headed by Nitin Gadkari, held a meeting this month with some consultancy firms and asked them to submit a cost analysis for use of Geofoam against conventional fill like soil for highway construction. The meeting was attended by some top experts from the US. Europe, Japan and USA have been using Geofoam for construction of roads for the past several years.
The move is latest in the line of steps taken by Gadkari to improve the overall sector. Ministry officials say he has been taking a keen interest in promoting the use of alternative materials and design in the construction of National Highways. An expert committee was constituted earlier this year to identify and recommend new material for construction of highways.
“We are consulting a cross section of agencies and experts to adopt material suitable to local needs,” said a senior ministry official. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wants the pace of road construction to be expedited in the country, he added.
According to ministry, thermocol, a brand of Geofoam, can cut the project cost by 30 per cent and reduce the time for construction of roads drastically, which is the need of the hour. It could become a significant step as Gadkari has been batting for building 100 km of highways per day in next few years against around 15 km per day right now.
“The best part is that Geofoam is 100 times lighter than the soil and does not expand or contract with changing temperatures like extreme winter or heat. It does not get washed away by floods or landslides when compared to soil used now for base. Besides, we have to use large amount of healthy soil for roads construction which could be avoided if we use Geofoam,” said the official.
The Border Road Organisation (BRO), which constructs roads for the strategic need and socio-economic development of inaccessible border areas of the country, has been using Geofoam for construction of roads in difficult terrain. It is more durable, easy to transport, and requires less manpower for construction as sheets just have to be lifted and placed.
Realising the benefits and given the PM’s focus on development through roads, the ministry has also issued an order that project reports for all future projects should duly consider all possible alternative design combinations, including those permitted that lead to the most suitable and economical proposal.
“Instances have come to the notice of the ministry, wherein the contractors has proposed alternative materials in the design but due to differences of opinion at various levels, the authority has been reluctant to adopt alternative pavement design on various grounds such as the detailed project reports (DPRs), or that the cost estimates for these projects were framed as per conventional bituminous pavement design and non availability of extensive experience of adoption of alternate design,” said another official.
To resolve the issues, the matter was referred to the Standing Committee on introduction of new technology design in the projects and the committee has since made recommendations based on detailed discussions and consultations with all stakeholders.
India has 96,000 km of National Highways which constitute barely 2 per cent of the country’s 48-lakh-km road network but witnesses 40 per cent of the total traffic. The government plans to add 50,000 km of National Highways in the next six months.