Waiting for highways: How efficiently Ukraine repairs its roads?

Author : Ksenia Tsyvirko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukrainian roads in their current state are more suitable not for their direct purpose, but for competitions to overcome the obstacle course
23:10, 9 September 2019

road repairs in Ukraine in 2019
Open source

According to the Center for Economic Strategy studies, Ukraine uses funds for the construction, repair, and maintenance of roads 2-2,5 times less efficient than neighboring Slovakia. At the same time, experts say, the annual financing of road works does not exceed 15% of the real need. However, with the launch of the Road Fund in 2018, the volume of repairs began to increase. Experts believe that this is not an indicator of success: first of all, it is necessary to change the approach to planning and assessing the quality of works.

Ukrainian roads in their current state are more suitable not for their direct purpose, but for competitions to overcome the obstacle course. In some driving schools, knowing this feature of the roads, it is advised to take extreme driving courses right away ... Even government agencies acknowledge that about 95% of roads are in poor condition. In the ranking of countries based on the quality of the road, which was made as part of the World Economic Forum, Ukraine constantly takes the last places: last year it was 130 out of 137 places.

Holey asphalt not only provokes drivers to shout curses but also damages the vehicle and creates road accidents. "At the same time, it is almost impossible to prove that the accident was caused by the pit. It happens that the police issues fines for the driver not taking into account the traffic situation. Although, in fact, the cause of the accident was poor-quality repair work of the contractor, "says auto expert Oleksiy Mkrtchyan.

Is money the main reason?

This stalemate is caused by many reasons. Most often politicians refer to one - insufficient funds in the budget. Indeed, this is an expensive pleasure: the construction of one kilometer of the road costs 80-110 million UAH (4 million USD), the overhaul - 25-50 million UAH (1-2 million USD), and the current average repair of 1 km will cost 8-15 million UAH (600 000 USD). And it’s not correct to complain that Ukraine is heading to Europe, but its roads are not: for our budget, the “road issue” is becoming an overwhelming burden, since its solution requires large investments and almost no income. According to the Delft analytical center estimates, over the past 20 years, EU countries have spent $ 199-210 billion per year on road construction and repair, and they received $ 320-325 billion in revenue from transport taxes annually.

It should be noted that Ukrainians also contribute to the budget for the construction, repair, and maintenance of roads in the form of excise taxes on domestic and imported vehicles and fuel; import duties on petroleum products and vehicles; car overload and toll roads. And since 2018, money for roads began to be allocated from one source - the newly created Road Fund, and not from scattered budget items. Due to this, the level of financing for construction and repair work has increased: in 2016 it amounted to 15,1 billion UAH (600 million USD), in 2017 – 17,4 billion UAH (695 million USD), and in 2018 - already 32,6 billion UAH (1,3 billion USD). At the same time, the volume of road works also increased: 0.9 thousand km were restored in 2016, 2,1 thousand km in 2017 and 3,8 thousand km in 2018. However, this quantity is critically small: in general, the roadbed of Ukraine is 170 thousand km, and taking into account the fact that the lion's share of the work falls on the current minor and medium repairs, which should ensure the condition of the road for 3-5 years (but this is rarely actually fulfilled), then the roads “like in Europe” become an unattainable dream. But, to achieve it, it will take from 2 to 5 trillion hryvnias and at least 10 years to carry out major repairs. And this, for a moment, is our several annual budgets of the country as a whole ...

In 2020, all 100% of excise and customs payments for imported cars and oil products will be transferred to the treasury account of the Road Fund (last year 50% was received by it, and this year - 75% of payments). However, it should be noted that not all money from the Fund goes specifically to the repair of the road - 5% is directed to improve road safety and another part to pay off debts. This year, Ukraine will pay UAH 8,5 billion (USD 340 million) to international financial organizations on debt obligations, and in general, during 2018-2022, we should say goodbye to another 33,5 billion hryvnias (1,3 billion USD) of interest.

What about money efficiency?

A glimmer of hope for improvement is also caused by the new system of distributing finances to local regional roads. Previously, the entire road system was managed by Ukravtodor, and with the introduction of the Road Fund, only 50 thousand km became trustees of the agency. These were roads of national importance, with allocated 60% of financing from the Fund, while the remaining 120 thousand km went under control of regional state administrations. Prior to this, there was a political distribution of funds.

“For planning and prioritizing road repairs, the data on the condition of the roads must be uploaded to constantly updated pavement management systems. For example, HDM-4 is used for making management decisions in the road sector of Georgia, Bulgaria, and the Baltic countries. And in Ukravtodor there is a System of Road Management, which was created in 2006. And it was not used for modeling because it cannot work without a database of road passports. Therefore, the money distribution system from the Road Fund is not objective today and is an instrument of political corruption"- said the Infrastructure Development organization head Stanislav Gvozdikov.

Now the functions of the quality control are performed by the “Road Quality Control” State Scientific and Technical Center, which is part of Ukravtodor. Knowing that no tough sanctions will come from an independent supervisory authority, officials will be able to allocate money for unnecessary repairs and draw up false reports: an audit conducted in 8 regions this summer revealed ineffective use of UAH 607 million (USD 24 million). Financial frauds have become so topical that they look cynical and unexpected during an audit. They should be included in the "encyclopedia of the most stupid facts of corruption."

Related: Roadmending will cost Ukraine $ 40 bln, - Minister of Infrastructure

"In the Poltava region, auditors found repair projects that differed only in title pages. Despite the different lengths and locations of road sections, the indicators for carriage, tree felling, garbage collection and transportation, and the number of stumps for uprooting coincided. Even the number of installed road signs (93 units) was the same, and these are sections of roads in different regions of the region. [...] In the Luhansk region, auditors questioned the project of making top layers with hot asphalt mixtures, which, as it turned out according to the documents, were delivered by cars, minibusses and generally unregistered vehicles. The supplier of asphalt concrete for repairing roads in the Poltava region was a plant located in a private one-room apartment in the city of Sumy, ” the auditing report says.

"The main task for officials is to repair cracks and report on the work done on thousands of kilometers of roads. However, behind the screen of these high-profile words, there is poor-quality road surface. After all, it is not necessary to draw up project documentation to complete the ongoing minor repairs. It is prepared by qualified engineers - designers only for major repairs, which are almost not conducted in our country. In this case, a detailed study of the condition of the road is carried out, experts determine the most effective technologies, and after the overhaul, the contractor must still undergo architectural and construction control by the state. But when performing minor and medium-term repairs, the quality of work is assessed by the customer himself, without the involvement of external bodies. Since the customer and the contractor are often connected, what quality we can talk about," says the road safety auditor and road design expert Oleksandr Kryzhanovsky.

So, according to the Center for Economic Strategy, from 2012 to 2017, no more than 10% of all funds spent on road works were directed on overhaul and road construction. Last year, the number of funds for overhaul of local roads increased to 24%, although it was supposed to be 62%. At the same time, tenders for capital and current average repairs are carried out at almost the same price, according to the analysis of government procurement in the road sector. “From above, the roadway will look the same. And by external characteristics, it is impossible to determine the quality of the materials used and the actual volume of the layers of the road surface. Therefore, it is also difficult for the public to verify the conscientiousness of the work. Although their actual cost can differ greatly from the planned one,” says Oleksiy Mkrtchyan.

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What to expect in the near future?

However, in the foreseeable future, steep turns should appear on the path of development of the road economy.

"From 01.01.2020 DSTU 8747: 2017 comes into force. That is, the most corrupt small-well repair of roads will be carried out on the basis of the project and with technical supervision for its observance," says Stanislav Gvozdikov. In addition, in July, the president signed a decree “On creating conditions for the development and improvement of the quality of roads”, which says about the creation of a public portal that would allow real-time monitoring of the progress of construction and repair.

“In my opinion, we already have suitable specialists: design engineers, technical supervision engineers. So the appearance of another entity in the legislation - an inspector-consultant - will only complicate everything. There are also warranty periods for the work performed - 5 years in the case of the current average repair and 10 years in the case of the overhaul, which are prescribed directly in the customer’s contracts with the contractor. Another thing is that in fact, it is impossible to bring someone to justice. We already have a well-developed but not working system, " Kryzhanovsky notices.

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Nevertheless, in Ukraine, there is also positive experience in terms of quality control and road operation. True, this is due to borrowed money from international financial organizations - as part of a pilot project under OPRC (Output and Performance-based Road Contracts). The contractor restores the roadway and an independent expert evaluates the quality of the work carried out, so the contractor receives money for it. In addition, this part of the road under the contract goes to a contractor for a certain period of time. Experts cite the example of an “ideal 200 kilometers” road in the Lviv region on the Kyiv-Chop highway. This section of the road was taken under guardianship by the Turkish Onur company, which in 2014 signed a contract for road maintenance for 7 years with Ukravtodor. At the same time, under the terms of the contract, the quality of road maintenance is controlled by an independent French company. And if within 4 hours, a crack or a pit is not eliminated on the road, Onur will receive a fine of 100 euros per day.

Recently automatic weighing systems in motion - the so-called WIM (Weight-in-Motion) began to appear on the roads. Such pleasant signs are also the fruit of cooperation between Ukraine and MFIs. Thus, the introduction of an intelligent transport system takes place as part of the loan agreement “Road Development Project” signed in 2015 with IBRD.

However, it is not so important, in the framework of which projects the goal so desired for domestic drivers was achieved. And in order to restore the almost completely destroyed road system, which the experts put on a par with Mozambique and Paraguay, it will require not only a lot of money but also a lot of patience.

Related: Violations in $1,1 million detected in Road Service work in Kyiv region

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