Are Hong Kong road users in danger? Shoddy excavation work on the rise, sparking ‘safety concerns’
Audit Commission finds worrying increase in number of cases with subpar standard of work, slow repairs and project extension requests
Cases of shoddy excavation work on Hong Kong roads have been on the rise recently, resulting in the Highways Department refusing to reopen the affected sections to users, the government’s spending watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Audit Commission found that last year, there were at least 6,191 completion notices – documents certifying that contractors had wrapped up works according to requirements – that the Highways Department refused to endorse.
In 2016, there were 7,198 rejected completion notices – up from 4,124 in 2013 and 5,294 two years earlier – for excavation works to maintain and repair the city’s 2,107km of roads and underground network of public utilities infrastructure.
The commission said the numbers showed “an increase in substandard … works carried out by contractors.”
Road works have been highlighted as a major cause of traffic congestion in the city. The commission produced an 83-page report laying out the causes of protracted road works and what the government could do to rectify the situation.
The report was the fourth of an eight-chapter evaluation of how the government had performed in providing a variety of public services. The commission issues such an evaluation every six months.
It also zoomed in on the painfully slow pace of rectification works, which prevented the “reinstatement” of affected road sections.
Of the 35,479 completion notices rejected between 2011 and last year, about 15 per cent or 5,444 remained classified as non-compliant works at the end of last year.
Another 1,335 non-compliant works had remained that way for at least seven years, as their completion notices were rejected in 2010 or earlier.
“There are safety concerns for road users if substandard reinstatement works cannot be rectified in a proper and timely manner,” the report said.
The report also found that the number of project extension requests – including by government departments – was on the rise. There were 727 requests in 2010 and 1,293 in 2016, with the average extension period soaring from 48 days to 91 days in the same period.
In one case, the Water Supplies Department required a 502-day extension because it had to change its “construction method” to avoid a mass of concrete and utilities pipes and grapple with “inclement weather”.
The commission listed a variety of ways in which the Highways Department could make sure road improvement and maintenance projects were completed in a more timely fashion and that high standards were kept.
One was to insist that departments conducting excavations do their homework more thoroughly “to ascertain the underground conditions” before carrying out works.
Another was to tighten enforcement on contractors who submitted shoddy work or were slow in rectifying problems through the existing demerit point system.
The government said it agreed with the recommendations.