Despite repairs, Sulaimaniyah’s roads are plagued with potholes

28-12-2023 06:49
Restoration of a street in Sulaimaniyah by Municipal teams, December 21, 2023


After being repaired, it took just a few autumn rains for the main roads and streets of Sulaimaniyah governorate to be full of potholes again because of poor-quality asphalt and heavy truck traffic.

"What is being done is a short-term fix. The roads break in the rain and create even more obstacles for traffic," said Mohammed Ali, a taxi driver on the Kirkuk-Sulaimaniyah highway.

He told Peregraf that he has been traveling this route for more than fifteen years and has "survived certain death" along the way, including two major accidents.

"The road has not been repaired for years. When it is patched, it deteriorates quickly and becomes an obstacle, especially in winter. I was driving 100 kilometers per hour and I hit a pothole, which burst my tire. I almost died," Ali said.

A campaign to repair the streets and roads in Sulaimaniyah has been ongoing for the last several weeks, both inside and outside the city. However, the same problems that were apparent before the repairs have already started to arise in the same places.

Awat Aziz Ahmad, director of media and communications for Sulaimaniyah city, told Peregraf that there are several reasons for the deterioration of the asphalt.

"It is partly related to citizens who put water on the asphalt before the work is completed and partly related to the quality of the asphalt and its components, which are not mixed properly," Ahmad said.

If the asphalt does not pass a preliminary inspection, the authorities will reject it, he added.

Ahmad also said that truck traffic is a major cause of road damage due to their weight.

The Kurdistan Region has more than 2 million registered vehicles, of which more than 593,000 are located in Sulaimaniyah governorate. Last year, there were more than 1,000 traffic accidents, which killed at least 174 people. Poor road conditions were a factor in many of the crashes.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) charges a fee for road maintenance every time a vehicle receives its annual license renewal. This fee is 70,000 Iraqi dinars for trucks, 30,000 Iraqi dinars for rental vehicles, and 20,000 Iraqi dinars for private cars. Nevertheless, the quality of roads remains poor.

"Asphalt must meet certain standards when it is made. It will cause damage to the roads if there is a defect in the asphalt and it does not pass inspection," Rzgar Star, a road engineer, told Peregraf.

Liquid bitumen is produced from crude oil and then mixed with gravel and sand to produce asphalt. Environmental and use factors influence the precise mixture and chemicals used.

Typically, a three-layer process for roadbuilding is employed. At the bottom, pavers lay a 10-centimeter bed of large-grained gravel. Then they put a 6-centimeter layer of bitumen and finer grains and a smooth top-layer of liquid asphalt.

"These three layers are used to make a solid and standard asphalt," said Star, who added that the top layer is not often used in the Kurdistan Region.

The use of substandard construction techniques allows water to get into the road layers, which allows potholes to form.

Star added that trucks should be using all of their tires when traveling on the roads in order to distribute weight more evenly and prevent road surface deformation.

"If a small crack is not repaired in the first year, it will damage the road in the second year. If it takes 10 million Iraqi dinars to repair this year, it will cost four times as much next year," said Star.

Shaho Rashid Ghafoor, head of planning and monitoring at the Sulaimaniyah Road Maintenance and Protection Directorate, told Peregraf that "there are many reasons for road deterioration" beyond poor-quality asphalt.

These include badly laid roadbeds and lack of drainage for water, said Ghafoor.

"In general, no road project has been rejected completely," he said, adding that there is an annual inspection and road construction plan for areas outside the main cities.

However, Star argued that there needs to be a cross-governorate conference about the state of the Kurdistan Region’s roads, which he said were "still paved with the system of the 1960s."

"This needs to be changed," he said, noting that the asphalt used on older roads holds up much better than what is being laid today.