Thein Sein Orders Rapid Repairs to Burma’s ‘Death Highway’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 21 May 2014

RANGOON — Burmese President Thein Sein has ordered for the road linking Rangoon to Naypyidaw to be quickly repaired and upgraded to improve its safety, state media reports.

The quality of the road’s construction has been called into doubt by recent tragic car accidents on the road and a poor safety record since completion that has earned it the moniker the “death highway.” On May 12, a bus belonging to the Yarzarmin company skidded off a bridge on the highway in heavy rain, killing 14 passengers and injuring 30 others.

The 366-mile concrete road, which continues from Naypyidaw north to Mandalay, was completed in 2009 after being hastily ordered by the country’s former military regime. Since completion it has seen a high incidence of crashes, and the latest records from the highway’s police station show that from January to May 14 this year, 80 people died and more than 350 people were injured on the road.

But after the country’s worst road accident for five years this month, anxiety has risen to new heights among the public about traveling on the road.

On Monday, Thein Sein led an inspection of the road at the site of the Yarzarmin crash, on which he was accompanied by Minister of Construction Kyaw Lwin.

“The President called for a number of improvements, including an upgrade of the bridges along the road, expansion of the highway from four lanes and quick implementation of repair works,” the New Light of Myanmar reported, adding that work would be focused on a section making up 6 percent of the road’s length, which has been identified as the priority by Japan’s international aid agency, JICA.

Another 19 percent has been identified as needing maintenance and the remaining 75 percent is in good condition, a JICA survey has found.

Thein Sein also called for “more staff training and close supervision of maintenance works and road safety measures,” the report said.

Kyi Zaw Myint, the chief engineer of the Highway construction group, told The Irrawaddy last week that the upgrade to six lanes will completed this year.

“If we upgraded and expended this highway road, traffic accidents will be reduced,” Kyi Zaw Myint said, adding, however, driver error and weather conditions were also factors in most crashes.

The cost of the work would be more than 1 billion kyat, or US$1 million, although an exact cost had not yet been calculated, he said.

“USAID will provide the technical assistance for this highway,” he said.

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.