Friday, May 30, 2008

Digging up the Pothole Mystery

The "when-we's" who left Zimbabwe often talked about the first signs of Zimbabwe's decay: potholes in the road. I guess it has been a feature we've watched for with hawk eyes in the transition from the old to the new South Africa.

I'm pleased to report that our pothole situation is nothing like some expectations in 1994. I can confidently report from my own experiences that I am not aware of a pothole that was not at some stage repaired. At "some stage" could mean a year or two, admittedly, but at least that's a finite scale.

What does seem prominent though is that potholes keep re-appearing. I've always thought it was simply the aging of the road, which now needed a full resurfacing, something that is rarely done. Now it turns out that much of the problem is actually down to the contracting of pothole-fillers.

The KZN provincial department that repairs roads contracts the filling out to individuals. Usually there is little filling background required, but personally I don't see experience as a huge requirement in this field anyway. The real problem is that repairs are paid for per square metre. Subsequently it is in the filler's best interests to do a spit-and-polish job rather than a deep repair, because they'll get fresh work in a shorter space of time.

So the problem it turns out is simply a matter of quality control. The department is partly doing its job, but just needs to get out, inspect the repair jobs and put some pressure on the contractors... although an occasional resurfacing would be nice too!

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