Infrastructure Cook Islands’ new Civil Works director Wil Pille says in order to understand the whole picture about maintaining the roading network in Rarotonga, you need to know the facts and figures.
These are: 116km of sealed network, 85km of unsealed network, 82 bridges, 5.4km of concrete culverts, 10.2km of footpath and more than 100km of spoon-drains, water-tables and watercourses.
Maintaining roads, no matter where you are in the world, will always be a challenge and maintaining the roads of Rarotonga are certainly not an exception according to Pille.
However, the many challenges faced in keeping up with roading network maintenance and upgrades are more complex than just patching up potholes.
Limitations in available equipment and machinery for both Rarotonga and the Pa Enua and a shortage of skilled personnel, create challenges of their own, Pille says.
A lack of available equipment and machinery through sub-contractors, lengthy waits for spare parts for existing machinery and machinery in need of replacement facing budget restraints, are all present issues that Cook Islands Infrastructure is working hard to alleviate.
“We have 11 staff for roads and drainage maintenance and a further four staff in our workshop who also step in to operate our machinery,” says Pille. “We actually need five more staff to keep up with the work list.”
In overcoming these challenges and getting road maintenance in order, Pille and the Infrastructure Cook Islands team are procuring additional important machinery – subject to available budgets.
At the top of the list are training and upskilling existing staff and recruiting additional staff and putting in place equipment supply agreements with subcontractors, especially during adverse weather events.
An Asset Management Strategy with a focus on pro-active maintenance instead of re-active maintenance is the priority.
Originally from Holland, Pille has worked in New Zealand for 30 years and visited Rarotonga on a two-week placement with Infrastructure Cook Islands’ Civil Works Division, as part of the Local Government New Zealand technical support programme.
The new Civil Works director brings a wealth of knowledge with him – he has built and maintained roads across New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
He says there are problems beyond just not knowing how to manage road maintenance and building here in Cook Islands.
“With the recent adverse weather conditions we all would’ve noticed the potholes appearing at an alarming rate and often over and above the potholes which already existed,” Pille explains.
“Infrastructure Cook Islands Civil Works is well aware of this and is working hard to fix it. Unfortunately, this will take some time if we want to do it properly.”
The approach Infrastructure Cook Islands is now taking under Pille’s instruction is to concentrate on the maintenance of the existing roading network.
Seal extensions (sealing of unsealed roads) will be temporarily put on hold until the ministry has caught up with the backlog of work to make the roads safe to travel on, before continuing with their seal extension programme.
Work being undertaken at present is fixing potholes and utility trenches on the Ara Metua, Ara Tapu and crossroads, and grading roadside shoulders, which support the road formation and berms to allow water to soak into the berms.
Other work includes cleaning kerbs, channels, cesspits, and stormwater soak pits, unblocking culverts, bridges and upstream watercourses, cleaning out drains leading to culverts, applying road marking on newly sealed sections of the Ara Tapu, refreshing older road markings and grading unsealed network.
As well as this physical work, Infrastructure Cook Islands attends approximately 15 call-outs per month, such as fallen trees, blocked culverts and bridges, grading, wash-outs and assistance to other government agencies.
They also attend weather events and associated clean ups and provide technical assistance to the outer islands in regards to road maintenance and supply of equipment and machinery.
“As you might be able to understand, this is quite a variety of work that needs to be repeatedly attended to,” Pille says.
The roads on the islands cater for a large number of traffic movements, he explains.
The Ara Tapu has traffic counts of around 8000 vehicles per day, and the Ara Metua in the vicinity of 500 to 1000 vehicle movement per day. “Understandably roads with higher number of cars will have more maintenance done than the roads with lesser volume,” he says. “We are prioritising where our maintenance will take place.
“Having said that, we will maintain roads in a way that they are safe to use. At times that means you will have to drive to the conditions.”