Road to Nowhere

If our capital city can’t solve – or at least attempt to devise a workable solution – to the economy-damaging gridlock that is an unfortunate feature of city workers’ lives, what hope is there for Bali? It is obvious that we are a victim of our success, but we are only in this mess because of the paucity of planning.

With the current scramble to do something tangible, however febrile, to unclog Bali’s roads before delegates begin arriving for the APEC summit in 2013, there are disturbing indications that the authorities are cutting corners in an attempt to have a practical mitigation in place. Here we speak of construction of the Nusa Dua-Denpasar toll road that is scheduled to begin this month. The State Enterprises Ministry tells us that funds for the projected Rp5.5 trillion (US$603 million) cost of the project have not been found in their entirety but that it is nonetheless forging ahead with this infrastructure development with less than half of that amount.

But, we are told, local labour and materials will drive down costs to such an extent that the project is viable and should be complete just before the prestigious meeting of world leaders. And then what?

When the delegates have returned home, we are left with a massive project that may or may not be used by locals (depending on the toll fee). Its discounted physical integrity could possibly come into question – even with the originally projected budget, wouldn’t the road’s construction have involved Indonesian workers and locally sourced materials anyway? With the disaster surrounding another grand Indonesian piece of infrastructure, the Mahakam II Bridge in Kalimantan, claiming close to 20 lives last weekend, the country cannot afford to economise on important infrastructure.

The toll road represents little more than a damp Band-Aid to Bali’s worsening traffic problems and comes at a time when a record number of vehicles are plying the roads – there is now triple the number of motorbikes than there was in 1998, at just over 1.5 million, and the figure is rising by up to 500 more a day, according to newly released government figures. On a small island like Bali, with much of its population squeezed into the south, that is simply not sustainable.

As in the national capital, the answer to Bali’s problems lies in a properly developed, professionally managed public transportation system. Until that day arrives, if it ever does, our traffic woes will continue to worsen.

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