by Tim Newton
“The road across Patong Hill will be open again in 7 days.”
That’s out of the mouth of the Phuket Highway Director, Yutthana Pitak.
“The landslide on Patong Hill is about 500 metres from the curve near a shooting range.”
“The road repair work can be started after the rain stops. The temporary road repair will take about seven days.”
Given the tonnes of sandy soil that had been sitting under the affected stretch of road, all now at the bottom of the hill, and the clear vision of the lack of foundation work supporting the road, who would dare drive over any “temporary road repair” in their right mind?
Patong Hill road isn’t the only Phuket road to suffer the affects of torrential undercutting foundations and causing collapsed roads this wet season. A major repair to a road between Kathu to Koh Kaew, a popular ‘back road’ alternative to the By Pass Road, took two months. The scope of that repair is only a tiny percentage of the mammoth job facing engineers and construction workers on Patong Hill this time. Other large pot holes have appeared over the last week as road foundations keep getting washed away. You can expect more to appear over the next few weeks, as sub-structures start to dry out again along Phuket’s main arteries.
Although there is a clear urgency to get the Patong Hill road open, there is also a much more important role in these heavily-scrutinised, and challenging, roadworks – to do it properly. Other sections of the Patong Hill Road, the main route in and out of the island’s party town, have failed over the years and needed ‘urgent’ patch ups, only to fail again.
This time, with only the nearest lane to the cliff still ‘visually’ intact, the entire 150 metre stretch of collapsed road will probably need to be totally removed, and proper foundations and supportive infrastructure installed before any road is then laid over the top. But there will be a lot more scrutiny this time with the gaping wound, and any constructions works, clearly visible.
In recent months, the road going up the hill, just past the area that collapsed, was being widened, approaching the temple at the peak of the hill, before descending down into Patong. That, too, will need a closer inspection given its proximity to Wednesday’s collapse.
Of course, the much-discussed tunnel under the hill, a project debated and planned for the past 2 decades, should already be completed and open for traffic. But it’s not. And even an accelerated program to get the Patong Tunnel completed would be a 2-3 year wait.
Phuket tourism aficionados are happy to request more “world class tourists” and monied retirees to come to Phuket. But island officials seem determined to spend as little as possible on major infrastructure projects, weathering the bad PR and living in hope that the planes full of eager tourists just keep on arriving.
Phuket has been the tourism jewel-in-the-crown and cash cow for Thai tourism for decades – but the money keeps heading back to Bangkok and the centralised government, instead of being spent directly on the island. Moves for a Special Administrative Zone for Phuket, so money generated on the island stays on the island, haven’t really progressed. Singular interest groups and cartels, particularly controlling transport on the island, also hold the island back from becoming a proper “world class destination”.
The “road less travelled”, in this case, would be Patong Hill Road being closed off for the 6 months it would actually take to provide a proper, and long lasting, repair. But you can be sure that the “temporary repair” will win the day.
Do the repair once, and do it properly. Please.
NOTE: The Phuket Governor has since announced that soil tests were being undertaken “which would take 2-3 days” before deciding on a further course of action. He also said that any repairs would done with “safety in mind”.
“…the most important thing now is to consider the safety of citizens and tourists who use the route.”
Views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the staff or management of Phuket-GO.com