Building roads safely
Road accidents are frequent on Rama II Road, also known as Highway 35, which is the only main artery to the southern region.
While mishaps, even fatal accidents, are inevitable on a major highway, a recent accident on Rama II Road was not a random case of misadventure.
The results of a technical probe released on Monday revealed that sub-standard concrete bars and loose safety practices were to blame for the fatal accident on May 7.
Conducted by the Expressway Authority of Thailand (Exat) and the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT), investigators sought to find out what caused a precast concrete beam, 3 by 10 metres, to fall off a structure, killing one construction worker and damaging eight cars.
The probe found that precast concrete bars used in constructing the Rama III-Dao Khanong-Western Bangkok Outer Ring Road expressway are made of substandard concrete, which reduces their load-bearing capacity.
Exat has reportedly ordered the contractor to immediately replace the precast concrete beams and related materials in the accident area.
The contractor has likewise been told to ramp up safety measures in construction zones, such as installing CCTV at construction sites during the hoisting of heavy concrete bars.
Exat is also reportedly continuing its testing of other precast concrete bars in the project and will issue guarantee permits to ensure only qualified materials are being used.
But the outcome of the probe is shocking.
It's baffling that substandard materials are still being used in such a large infrastructure project, and further questions need answering.
Is the substandard concrete bar the only one that fell on May 7?
What is the structural endurance and load-bearing ability of the whole expressway structure?
What penalty will Exat impose on the contractor for using such substandard material?
The accident wasn't the first incident involving construction on Rama II Road. On the night of July 31, 2022, a five-tonne, 10-metre-long concrete beam fell off a U-turn bridge, plunged onto a car, and hit a pickup truck, killing two people and injuring five others.
According to statistics collected by the local rescue group Samut Sakhon Foundation last year, there were 10 accidents on average per day on Rama II Road.
Many of these are related to construction work, including the surface upgrades that have been ongoing for three decades on Highway 35, and in the past few years, the construction of the elevated highway.
The Ministry of Transport and responsible agencies, like Exat, cannot let accidents become a pattern.
Instead of focusing on launching megaprojects and arranging bids, hopefully, the new transport minister will prioritise safety on Rama II Road and introduce tough measures such as hefty penalties on irresponsible contractors and using neutral auditors to keep contractors in check.
Without a serious effort to improve safety, casualties that should have been avoided will only recur, and motorists will drive in fear.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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