Road maintenance out of control

Bookmark and Share


A new state report that was delayed for release until after last week’s election confirms the sorry state of Norwegian roads. State auditors have discovered an alarming lack of control over road-building and road maintenance that raises the risk of accidents.

The report was one of several prepared by the state auditor (Riksrevisjon) that werewithheld for public releaseuntil after the election. That prompted criticism from the opposition, who said it was “arrogant” of the sitting government not to reveal their content.

Now it’s confirmed that the report on Norway’s road system contains highly critical evaluations of both road operations and maintenance that reflect poorly on the Labour-led government, which won re-election last week. Norway’s road and highway department has been under the purview of Transport Minister Liv Signe Navarsete of Labour’s government partner, the Center Party, while the division in charge of Norwegian roads, Statens vegvesen, is headed by Labour veteran Terje Moe Gustavsen.

Both Navarsete and Gustavsen now need to explain why Norwegian road maintenance, which costs taxpayers NOK 2.1 billion a year, is so poor. Auditors determined that more than half of the roadwork conducted on an extensive sample of various stretches of roads around the country was of poor quality.Motorists and especially truck drivers have complained for years that far too many Norwegian roads and highways are narrow, full of potholes and inadequately designed to handle traffic flow. Included among them is the main highway between Bergen and Trondheim, which in some areas is so narrow that two trucks can barely pass once another.

Riksrevisjon, headed by a former defense minister for Labour, Jørgen Kosmo, described the report’s findings as both “depressing” and “discouraging.” The most serious finding, he thinks, is that auditors found it nearly impossible to find anyone within either the transport ministry or the roads department who actually had an overview of the state of Norwegian roads. His auditors thus determined that no one has control over road projects, and that there’s little if any monitoring of work needed or completed.

The auditors raised questions “over how the transport ministry (Samferdselsdepartementet) or the highway department (Statens vegvesen) can evaluate operation of the road system in line with standards and priorities without such information.”

Gustavsen admitted to newspaper Aftenposten that the situation was “serious” and that there is “a clear need” for more control over operations and maintenance contracts.

Navarsete was defensive. “I don’t view the report as so critical that no one has control,” she told Aftenposten . “But is is critical on many points that we must follow up and I will see to it that we do that.”

She said her ministry will evaluate the effect of allowing private firms to compete for road projects, which until 2003 were handled by the state. She also said the ministry would consider another reorganization of the highway department and said a consulting firm was already working on the issue, meaning taxpayers will also need to pay their consulting fees.