Part of the approach to the Bucalevu Bridge, midway between Rakiraki and Tailevu has collapsed, with the bridge now open to one-way traffic only.
Picture below shows the collapsed section on the Rakiraki-end of the bridge. It is clear that the approach was not properly reinforced – hence the current calamity.
With $500m-$600m being budgeted each year for road works, one wonders why we have one bridge after another collapsing in succession all over the country.
There appears to be a major scandal associated with this FRA saga. For one, FRA is accountable to the Prime Minister and not the Minister for Infrastructure. That in itself is questionable. Those in the know say that this arrangement was made to satisfy the Chinese contractors.
Most of the major road works have been awarded to China Railway First Group, China Railway Fifth Group and China Gezhouba under the Chinese soft-loan scheme. This is another huge scam.
The soft-loan roads are built by China Railway which has several tentacles or Groups as they call it. No tenders are called. It is the contractors who call the shots – they cost the project themselves and determine the contract sum.
They bring in their own labour, materials and machines – do a slip-shod job and charge us an arm and a leg for it. There is no transparency – no supervision or inspection of their works is allowed. They have a direct line to the PM and reportedly get very much what they want.
The 60 kms of the Dreketi Nabouwalu Highway cost a massive $210 million – it could have been done for half that cost. The Ra Bridge cost us $13.5 million when initial costings were put at $5million.
The contract for FRA’s Principal Professional Engineering Services Advisor went to MWH (NZ). It in turn awarded 6-year maintenance contracts to two other New Zealand companies – Fulton Hogan Hiways Joint Venture for Central, Eastern and Northern; and Higgins for the Western Division.
Both NZ contractors, it seems, have been hired mainly for road patching works. They patch the same potholes 3-4 times a year and keep a good count of it – running into hundreds of thousands a year.
We have no information about their maintenance programme – sources within the FRA say they don’t have one. Maintenance works are done on the basis of complaints from the public. Otherwise, they just scout around the major highways in their little trucks with a dozen men to a couple of shovels pouring a mixture of gravel and low grade tar into pot holes.
PWD and the municipal councils used to do the same job with much less funding – and using local workers! PWD was disbanded when FRA was created. Now we pay exorbitant salaries to FRA’s expatriate staff with housing allowances and other perks for doing much the same job that PWD used to do.
Most suburban roads in our cities and towns are in a state of neglect while the rural roads infrastructure receives the least attention – note the dilapidated condition of the wooden bridges and Irish crossings.
For the last two years, the biggest chunk of the FRA budget has been dedicated to the Nadi Airport-Denarau super highway so that tourists can make the distance in 10 minutes or less. The Denarau Bridge receives preference over the Vatuwaqa and Stinson Parade bridges which carry 30 times more traffic than that travelling the Airport-Denarau stretch.
But Suva residents can wait another five years seeing that they have put up with it for the past five years.