Building Village Roads Like Connecting Dots on a Map
By Ross Adkins
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 28, 2004 Looking at a map of Iraq, many small towns and villages dot the country -- many without roads between them marked on the map.
Nearly $40 million is being spent to provide hard-surfaced
all-weather roads to small towns in 15 of Iraq's 18 governances. Between 30 and
80 kilometers of roads, many only a few kilometers long, are to be built in
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That does not mean there are no roads. Mostly it means the existing roads are not "all-weather improved roads." Most are little more than dusty trails used by everything from four-wheel-drive vehicles to people on foot.
Many of these roads are impassable when rain turns them into muddy quagmires. It has been that way for centuries.
Today, something is being done to remedy the lack of all-weather roads between many of these villages and to connect them to existing improved roads. Nearly $40 million is being spent to provide hard-surfaced all-weather roads to these small towns in 15 of Iraq's 18 governances.
"Good roadways are very important to villages and farmers, not only for economic reasons, but for humanitarian good as well," said "Moe," an Iraqi engineer with the Programs and Contracting Office for the coalition forces who preferred not to use his real name for security reasons.
"For instance, I heard of one occasion when the family could not get the body of a loved one to a burial because the rains had made the roads impassable," he said. "It's important for people to get the hospital. When it rains here and the rainy season is coming, all that mud makes many roads unusable."
Between 30 and 80 kilometers of roads, many only a few kilometers long, are to be built in each governance. Most are being built over existing dirt roads that are smoothed, graded and given a hard surface. Each will be 6 meters wide plus improved shoulders. Usually the construction includes an asphalt-finished surface.
Moe said Iraqi standards are considered more than sufficient to meet the needs of the intended users. "Everyday usage by the local population is seen as the main reason for these roads," he noted. "In addition, they provide invaluable access to arteries to vital centers."
Building new roads also increases morale in the local population and helps restore national security, Moe said. Construction of the roads will create about 8,000 jobs using local contractors. "When you create job opportunities for people in those governances, you are putting money into the pockets of the local citizens, money they badly need," he added.
According to local officials and members of the Ministry of Housing and Roads, current plans are a good start. They quickly point out the initial contracts for these small village roads are really just the beginning.
"I think it is important to do this at the local level; we want to see how successful we do this," said one official from a southern governance, who wished not to be named. "It's a pilot program. Then we can do this throughout Iraq.
"The first contracts have been signed, and work should begin very, very soon," he added.
Although it is a small start, it begins to connect dots on a map to form the beginning of an improved infrastructure of roads and highways badly needed to tie all of Iraq into a nation.
(Ross Adkins is chief of public affairs for Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)