How to maintain one of the world’s toughest road systems

Published on Thursday, 07 June 2018

Published by Serge Cartier van Dissel and Ari Kalliokoski on Thursday, 07 June 2018

The Kyrgyz Republic is one of 5 CAREC countries with dedicated funding for the road sector.
The Kyrgyz Republic is one of 5 CAREC countries with dedicated funding for the road sector.

Central Asia has some of the world’s most challenging road networks. Steep mountain passes, long deserted stretches of highway, and sweltering summers combined with icy winters, make these road networks difficult to manage.

The result has been poor road conditions, high accident rates, excessive costs for road users and countless hours of lost productivity. The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program is trying to help its member countries address these problems.  

As part of efforts to improve transport in the region, CAREC countries plan to build or repair 7,800 kilometers of roads by 2020. An integral part of this massive regional transport upgrading program is to keep the new and refurbished roads in good condition.

To that end, member countries have compiled a Compendium of Best Practices in Road Asset Management that examines how CAREC countries are improving the management of their road networks, and how these countries can learn from each other and from countries outside the region. Below is a list of the main findings.

  Helping CAREC countries better manage their road networks

1. Limit the data to be collected.  Data collection is a costly aspect of road asset management. Data collection for the network as a whole may focus on a limited set of data, with more detailed data collected only for those roads that have been prioritized to receive investments. In Mongolia, for instance, the amount of data collected for the network was successfully reduced from 18 to only 2 data types.

2. Make the database easy to use. Once data has been collected, it is stored in a database so users are able to access and analyze it easily. Introducing a system of road codes and GPS coordinates, and ensuring local language interfaces for the database, can greatly simplify usage of the database. In the Kyrgyz Republic, a good first step was a simple Excel database with a Russian-language interface.

3. Start with simple software. Asset management systems range from simple spreadsheets with decision trees to complex software, requiring vast amounts of data and trained users. The more complex the system, the greater the risk of failure. Successful experiences have started with simple systems that were later developed further. After gaining experience with off-the-shelf software, Belarus developed a specialized system that fits its specific needs.

4. Institutionalize from the start. In many cases, the initial emphasis is on data collection and system development, and not enough attention is given to the integration of the road asset management system. The institutionalization of road asset management should precede any large-scale data collection or system development. At the very least, it requires creating a road asset management unit, including the human and financial resources needed for operation, something that only 6 of the 11 CAREC countries currently have.

  CAREC road asset management needs sufficient, predictable funding

5. Publish annual performance statistics. Data collection should be regular, so it can be used for planning and budgeting. Such data collection does not only serve a road asset management system and may initially serve only for monitoring purposes. The People’s Republic of China has a history of data collection for its statistical yearbooks, making it relatively easy to introduce planning systems using the data that was already being collected.

6. Integrate the system into decision-making processes. The road asset management system can help identify investment needs and required budgets, but this will only improve road management if it is integrated into planning and budgeting. In Pakistan, the integration of the road asset management system has helped to boost road maintenance funding and improved allocations of those budgets to different roads, resulting in significant improvement to road conditions over the past decade.

7. Provide sufficient and predictable funding. A road asset management system applies a long-term view. It looks at how road conditions will change over time, based on expected funding levels for the next 10-20 years. To identify optimum budget allocations and achieve the expected results, funding levels need to be predictable. Five CAREC countries have already introduced dedicated funding for the road sector, often partially funded by specific road user charges such as fuel taxes and tolls.

8. Separate management from implementation. A road asset management system allows for strategic planning based on medium- or long-term needs, as opposed to the common practice in many CAREC countries where in-house units respond to short-term needs. To function properly, this requires a distinction to be made between the so-called road manager responsible for planning, and the in-house units (and eventually the private sector) responsible for implementing the plans. An example of this is the recent split up of Uzavtoyul in Uzbekistan, transforming its in-house units into unitary enterprises and creating a State Committee for Roads that is responsible for strategic planning.

  Proper CAREC road asset management is a long-term effort

9. Ensure high-level support. The acceptance and integration of a road asset management system ultimately depends on political decision-makers, not on the institutional structure or technical staff. Decision-makers should be involved in the process from the start and need to understand how the road asset management system can optimize budget allocations and value for money. This means translating the results of the system analysis into terms relevant to these officials. In Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Finance has introduced results-based budgeting for all government units, supporting the introduction of a road asset management system for planning and monitoring results in the road sector.

10. Continue development support. The adoption of road asset management is not achieved in a couple of years. It needs support and development for an extended period of time in order to be fully accepted and integrated. Often this will require successive projects to support the three stages of road asset management system development, from initial piloting, through replication and capacity development, to integration and mainstreaming. It has taken 20 years for Pakistan’s national road asset management system to be fully integrated, while at the state level this process is just beginning.

11. Develop implementation capacity. The introduction of a road asset management system will generally see a shift from the rehabilitation of a limited number of individual roads in poor condition toward the maintenance of larger networks of roads in good and fair condition. This shift requires new technologies and contracting modalities, increased expertise and suitable equipment.

The CAREC Transport Sector Coordinating Committee is helping to guide this work across the region, in line with the Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy 2020.