US to Train Engineers Repairing Burma’s ‘Death Highway’

death highway

With its undulating road surface, poor signage and unpaved shoulders, the Rangoon-Naypyidaw-Mandalay highway is regarded as a death trap by many motorists. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to help the Burmese government improve safety standards on the Rangoon-Mandalay highway, which has seen several fatal traffic accidents recently, the US Embassy in Rangoon announced Monday.

In a letter of agreement with the Ministry of Construction, USAID has pledged to offer training in international highway safety standards to Burmese ministry engineers and technicians constructing safety enhancements along a 10-kilometer section of the 590-kilometer road with funding from the US government.

The “death highway,” as it is known locally, runs from Rangoon to Naypyidaw to Mandalay. It was completed in 2009 after being hastily ordered by the former military regime. The current quasi-civilian government has called for urgent repairs after 14 people were killed and 30 others were injured in a bus crash on the road last month. So far this year, accidents on the road have killed 80 people and injured 350.

The repairs to the 10-kilometer section of road will serve as a model for ongoing improvements implemented by the Ministry of Construction along the full length of the highway, the US Embassy said in a statement.

“The United States is committed to supporting continued reform and broad-based economic development. As the economy grows, transportation infrastructure will have to accommodate more trade and traffic,” US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell said in the statement.

In his monthly radio address this month, President Thein Sein apologized to family members who have lost loved ones in car accidents on the road.

Kyi Zaw Myint, the chief engineer of the highway’s construction management committee, expects the upgrades to cost more than 1 billion kyats, or US$1 million, although an exact cost has not yet been calculated. Forty-four of the 76 bridges on the highway between Rangoon and Mandalay will be upgraded in the first stage of the work, according to the Ministry of Construction.

The US Embassy said the agreement formalizes a partnership that began with a preliminary safety survey in May 2013.

“At the request of the Union Government, USAID engineers assessed the design, traffic volume, vehicle speed, and existing safety measures along the entirety of the highway,” the embassy said. “The assessment concluded that the most effective means to achieve scalable road safety improvements is through technical assistance and training on safety standards, bringing experience and best practices from the United States to help improve the safety and security of the country’s roads.”

4 Responses to US to Train Engineers Repairing Burma’s ‘Death Highway’

  1. First, we got to address these following issues

    We should investigate this Highway Project as:

    – Who is the Design Consultant (ie Engineering)

    – Does this Design Consultant have a Track Record

    – Do they have awarded this Design Contract on competitive Bid Tender

    – Who is the awarded Construction Contractor

    – Do they have a QA/QC Third Party for Construction

    Second, before US AID help to revamp existing highway, a thorough review of “Design” will give us a clear insight for two options:

    a) Revamp existing highway (with help – US AID)

    b) Build New one along side, with New “Design”

    This type of evaluation could help solve the problem of this “Death Highway”.
    (NB: of course, New “Design” consultant should be of well known track record)

  2. Is technological backwardness alone to blame for the accidents that take place in the section of the road? What about the corruption among the construction department officials and the ministry? Burmese engineers have been serving in many developed countries including the US. EU, Singapore and in Japan, and have proved themselves to be capable, honest and hardworking. I think the government should not munch words, it should come out clean and take serious measures against those who by adopting to corruption have caused and have been part of the murderers. We, the people, need more transparent response to our unanswered questions .

  3. Better late than never. To please General Ne Win, the US State Department had agreed in 1963 to build the Rangoon-Mandalay Highway. But the then military attache in the US embassy in Rangoon, Colonel Jon Ray, intervened, arguing that the highway would provide too easy an access to the Chinese into the Bay of Bengal, which in turn would threaten the sovereignty and security of the littoral states. Half a century later, thanks to Burma’s patriotic armed forces, the Chinese have received much more than they bargained for. They have successfully pried open their backdoor to the rest of the world.

    The real threat to the sovereignty and security the Bay of Bengal’s littoral states will come as certainly as night follows day.

    The weakened US can do no more than further assist China’s rise by upgrading the highway they wouldn’t build in the first place.

  4. >>>Burma’s authority responsible for>>Roads and Bridges>>

    >>should review>> Design Package/ Construction Package of >>

    >>Rangoon-Prome Highway>>built few decades back>>as a comparable study>>

    >>that project was financed by ADB>>and Design by Australia>>if not wrong to our memory>>

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