The road sector is the cornerstone of Southeast Asia’s (SEA) overall infrastructure sector. According to the ASEAN Statistical Yearbook, 2022, the SEA region has over 2.5 million km of total road length. There has been increasing focus towards improving road connectivity. With the use of digital tools, the expansion of roads and highways has been made possible in the region. However, the expanding road and highway network needs to be developed and maintained in a manner that ensures that it lasts in the long term. Thus, the operation and maintenance (O&M) of roads is important.
The O&M of roads involves the application of engineering, financial and management practices to optimise the level of service outcome in a cost-effective manner. The maintenance of roads is crucial for ensuring the safety of drivers and pedestrians and the overall efficiency of the transportation infrastructure. With the introduction of digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI) and smartphones, the monitoring of road asset conditions has been transformed from a costly, manual process into a highly automated process to produce accurate data. Moreover, geographic information system tools are being used to manage the database for road maintenance, helping road management authorities to prioritise asset maintenance.
Southeast Asia Infrastructure tracks key initiatives and plans being undertaken for the O&M of roads in the region…
Key initiatives and plans
Emerging technologies such as blockchain, internet of things (IOT), AI, and machine learning are being applied to road projects to optimise efficiency, safety and sustainability. For instance, the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), in Singapore, is using AI to improve road maintenance and safety. It has developed a solution with a local start-up, Vebits AI. The new systems being adopted by JTC help inspectors spot, report and rectify potholes, cracks and other issues faster and more accurately. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore has also been using AI and video analytics to better pick up defects along the more than 9,000 km of roads since 2021. The authority has also deployed technology that saves time on the inspections it conducts for footpaths, cycling paths, bus stops and covered linkways.
As part of the Land Transport Masterplan 2040 (Singapore), the LTA is working towards a more inclusive land transport system, and more pleasant, welcoming and safer streets. The authority is studying how the country’s road infrastructure can better support walking and cycling in neighbourhood centres to create a more liveable and inclusive environment for everyone.
The Malaysian government is making and implementing plans to improve road safety by setting targets and various initiatives, programmes, strategies and intervention measures. For instance, Malaysia’s Road Safety Plan (MRSP) 2022-2030 sets targets to increase the percentage of kilometres of new and existing roads. There is a three-star and above rating system, with star ratings to be expanded for all types of roads and high-risk areas such as schools and business activity zones. Besides, the plan recommends the continuation of the Malaysia Road Assessment Programme (MyRAP) to ensure the implementation of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) methodology, tools and training adapted to the local situation and needs. Additionally, Malaysia has road maintenance plans for Pahang state. For this, a budget of $91 million has been allocated. The state is also budgeting $227 million for further works to improve its federal road network. The work will improve existing road links and repair/replace structures damaged by floods.
In Vietnam, road works have been planned for sections of the North-South Expressway project. It is a significant project for Vietnam that will boost transportation and cut down on travel time. Around $6.46 billion has already been allocated for construction projects between 2026 and 2030. The work on the project has been split into 11 sections, with the funding model having been established for five of the sections. In the meantime, construction on a road in Ho Chi Minh City has received approval.
Several models are being introduced to improve road performance and resilience in Vietnam. For instance, the Kyoto model for asset management has proven to be instrumental in reducing the pavement costs for the life cycle of roads in the country. The model shows how robust asset condition data could be translated into deterioration forecasting to enable asset managers to come up with a fit-for-purpose budget to plan repairs. Besides, Highway Development and Management Model-4 has been used in Vietnam for pavement management systems.
To increase the pace and effectiveness of road development, state departments have inked an agreement to combine road construction projects under a single management system. The Department of Highways, Department of Rural Roads, and Expressway Authority of Thailand under the Ministry of Transport signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate to oversee the progress of 19 road projects, beginning with five construction projects with an investment of THB 233.7 billion. The first project to be undertaken will be a 30 km motorway construction project between Muang Mai to Kathu in Phuket. Exat will manage the project with plans to extend the highway to Kathu and Patong. Another project is the Pathum Thani-Rangsit-Ongkharak Highway, which will be managed by Exat as well. There are also plans to merge the highway with the Udon Ratthaya-Pathum Thani expressway network.
By implementing proper maintenance procedures and taking flood and landslip threats into account, Lao’s road maintenance policy seeks to maximise the asset life cycle. The country’s National Road No. 2 (NR2), is one of the prioritised investments under the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. It has the potential to fill a major connectivity gap to support regional integration. The project will connect with the Thai border at Huai Kone via NR4A and with the Vietnamese border at Tay Trang, Dien Bien Phu province, via NR2-East.
In order to expedite the O&M of road projects, it is crucial to overcome challenges such as land acquisition, environmental and forest clearances, and regulatory approvals. Some of the other critical issues involve poor road maintenance, traffic segregation for vulnerable road users, and enforcement of national laws regulating road user behaviour, among others. There is a need to improve the coordination and strategic focus of stakeholders in the delivery of road safety programmes.
The road ahead
Going forward, the accelerated pace of road construction is expected to result in increased traffic volumes across the SEA region. The continuous efforts being made to improve the O&M of roads will improve the mobility of consumers and open up opportunities for business expansion. Preserving road assets and maximising their life cycle through proper maintenance will ensure the efficiency and sustainability of investment in roads. Moreover, focusing on road maintenance will bring widespread benefits by not only preserving current assets but also lowering future costs for citizens and road users. This will prevent these assets from depreciating in value, provided timely investment is carried out.