SUNBIZ

FRA And The Way The Future Should Be

n John Ross is  a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him: johnrossfiji@gmail.comh   The Fiji Roads Authority,
11 Mar 2017 11:00
FRA And The Way The Future Should Be
Completed Roadworks in Namaka Nadi. Another successful project by Fiji Roads Authority.

n John Ross is  a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism. For feedback on this article, please email him: johnrossfiji@gmail.comh

 

The Fiji Roads Authority, more commonly known as the FRA, was created in January 2012 by the Fiji government to pull together a number of different entities in order to have a single group focused on the most valuable built asset in the country, the road network.

To round out the responsibilities and to make maximum use of the international expertise gathered to staff the Authority, the government also threw in the responsibility for 8,750 street lights, 1.200 road bridges of different sizes and shapes and 47 jetties spread throughout the islands that make up the country and generally provide the only link to the larger islands.

FRA is directly responsible for over 7,500 kilometres of roads, 1,700 kilometres of which are sealed. This is a very large inventory, valued at over seven billion dollars and one that requires a lot of attention.

The government’s directions were very brief and specific.

FRA was to improve the reliability and safety of the existing road network and to expand the network to provide capacity for sustained growth.

To achieve the optimum results FRA had to set up their structure from scratch and they needed expertise that was not, at that time, generally available in Fiji.

They divided the country into several sectors and appointed contractors to operate in each sector following a review to identify the best people internationally to take the operational responsibility.

Contracts were let to companies from New Zealand, who had to move to Fiji and start from absolute scratch.

They bought in world class experts in a wide range of disciplines, imported the latest technology and equipment, sub-contracted a number of specialists in Fiji to provide the support expertise such as geotechnology, environmental advice, hydrogeology, landscaping, land use laws and many other areas.

They also totally reviewed the country’s needs and considered strategies to best serve those needs.

They found a vast backlog of neglect, roads that were substandard when they were built are now on the verge of collapse, roads that were designed for the present and gave no consideration to the future, bridges that were not designed for the loads they were now required to handle and a general attitude of benign neglect.

They thought big, on an international level and with a horizon of a hundred years into the future. Government embraced the ideas and set about providing the funds to make them happen.

The population was excited when they were shown the plans.

The conversion of highways that were jammed two lane systems conceived almost a century ago would become modern four lane infrastructure incorporating the latest advances in safety features and traffic flow engineering, diversion of existing roads would avoid known flooding areas, straightening difficult curving sections would shorten travel time and increase safety and it was planned to seal the highway right around Viti Levu.

FRA was selling a vision of a future that had not been considered in Fiji before and everyone got fully behind the efforts and accepted the disruptions that occurred as a part of the realisation of the future.

While people complained about some issues they never believed that the pain now was not totally worth the promise of the future.

The second part of the FRA brief was just as important and time consuming as the first part, but results were not as dramatic or observable and people generally didn’t even know about this side of the operation.

FRA has a vast program of checking and measuring the condition of the total asset and does a great deal of restoration or prevention work to ensure the first requirement of their brief is met.

Roads are being resealed, gravelled, raised or cambered and drains and edges are being cleaned and deepened and smoothed to assist with wet weather operation.

Most of this goes unnoticed be the road users and certainly the constant regime of inspection and evaluation is invisible to the average driver.

There are times when FRA decides that the condition of the asset has reached a point where immediate action needs to be taken to protect it so they carry out some construction work.

At this point the driver becomes aware that something is happening but generally is not inconvenienced enough to complain.

However, when there is a need to make significant repairs to a bridge, drivers are impacted enough to become vocal and, all of a sudden, the inconvenience becomes FRA’s fault.

Lately there has been a shift in public attitude to the work FRA is doing and there is more complaining about inconvenience.  Nothing has changed with the FRA so what is the reason?

In the first few years FRA presented us with a grand plan and an exciting future with the changes they were planning.

We were going to enter a new era, the sort of roads that the leading overseas countries enjoyed, a safer and easier way to travel and the promise that we were entering a whole new era. And they delivered.

The Kings Road has opened the other half of Viti Levu with the sealing and upgrade that FRA undertook.

The road slip has been an issue but they moved quickly with some contingency plans and are sorting out the long term problem.

The Nadi and Suva four lane developments are still underway.

What has been completed so far has certainly been a revelation as to what a world class organisation can deliver when supported by the government, and in both cases the end of construction is in sight.

Major new bridge works are underway in a number of places and the jetties in many of the islands have seen the FRA attention.

The FRA operation certainly appears to have improved significantly. On broad review it looks as if FRA has been successful and continues to be so.

I can see no reason for an attitude amongst the public that FRA is not doing the job they did in 2013.

Indeed, I see signs that they have matured and are now more tightly focussed and effective, a couple of the sub-contractors appointed in the early days have dropped out because they could not deliver to the required standard and FRA have learnt a lot about the Fiji requirements since they started and are better informed than ever to fulfil their mandate.

Maybe we have grown used to the huge changes they bought about and are just a little blasé. That is sad, especially as the FRA continues to evolve and alter our environment in ways we can’t see.

Or maybe the FRA is talking more about what they have fixed than what changes they are still to bring us and how that will make our life better.

What really excited us at the start was the promises about how our lives would be improved, promises they delivered on.

They still have a lot to do and we should look forward to the future.



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