Long road ahead

By webadmin on 11:56 am Oct 06, 2011
Category Archive

Scott Younger

The recent annual return from villages to mark the end of Ramadan once again has highlighted the critical state of Indonesia’s land transportation, especially so in Java with, for example 7 million leaving the city before the Idul Fitri festival and the same number, plus a few additional family members, returning.

What is most striking is the extraordinary patience shown by road travellers sitting in many kilometres of tailbacks. But not so readily appreciated is that the additional road capacity needed to serve land transport needs in the future is significantly greater than that already shown on the latest masterplans, which in themselves still have many key connections waiting to be constructed. Unfortunately, it looks as if the country will always be behind requirement well into the foreseeable future.

Quality and glaring shortage of routes

There are several key problems with the country’s road infrastructure. These can be highlighted as:

Poor quality of too much of the network with an unacceptable level of partially or badly damaged sections, especially off Java, coupled with inadequate care and maintenance applied to the network. It is worth noting that some 92% of the network is comprised of provincial and district roads, largely the latter, and therefore since regionalization with little or no linkage to the higher level skills available at central level. The budget is available, increased 3 times over the past three years, but application is not, as recently again and periodically reported in the press. The jurisdiction for the dominant district network lies with the regency governments, but there has been no upgrading of skills in most of these for over a decade, despite a central government understanding of the various management issues. Therein lies a key part of the problem, a lack of operational function between the centre and the regions on jurisdictional lines, as well as lack of proper accountability, acceptance of outdated practices and lack of a proper regional construction industry.

Shortage of network. Bearing in mind the rate of growth experienced in the 1990s before the 1997/8 Asian Economic Crisis and once again being achieved and taking note of the lack of network, at least 500,000km to quote from several government pronouncements over the years. The figure below, drawn up from government sources, shows the development of the road network over the past 40 years, and the figure is revealing.

Historical overview

The first thing that comes to mind is how little attention was paid to Indonesia’s roads for over 30 years following independence, albeit establishing and cementing the fabric of the newly independent country was necessarily the most important issue at the time. The figure also quite clearly marks where there was a real effort in the upgrading and expansion of the network over the decade of the 1980s when many programmes with multinational assistance were taking place right across the country.

However, there was a generally unnoticed change in emphasis through the 1990s, following liberalising of the economy in 1989, when there became an increasing focus on the engaging of the private sector, especially for the development of the high value toll road sector. Following the success of the much earlier constructed Jagorawi (completed in 1978) and the East Java toll road from Surabaya to Gempol, key links were added, especially around the city of Jakarta and in West Java, most notably the Bandung Bypass. Sadly, the 1997/8 crisis put paid to a further large programme of toll road development, with 35 concessions either being permanently cancelled or deferred, with no progress in the years that followed, and little even after the economy recovered. Part of the problem then, of course, was the awarding of contracts to parties which either did not have the technical or financial wherewithal or frequently and absence of both to provide project delivery.

However, the figure also reveals another interesting fact. In line with the change in emphasis to the toll road sector in the 1990s, there appears to have been a very marked slowing down in work relating to the rest of the network; the dotted line indicates schematically what really needed to be done in continuing the 1980s upgrading aggressively through the 1990s leading onto further expansion. This would have gone significantly towards producing the larger network required today.

The 5 years after the 1997/8 crisis saw very little activity in the roads sector, and much of the further expansion shown has taken place since the mid 2000s, although still leaving the network well short of requirement.

Over the past three years or so the budget ascribed to the regions for infrastructure development, with a high proportion of it for the roads sector, has increased threefold. However, the results have not been manifest in any network improvement; on the contrary in some places the percentage of deterioration has increased, the reasons for which were highlighted above. There remain many structural improvements to organization and systems to be carried through to ensure that the country starts seeing a decent return on investment in regional roads, and a staunching of the ‘bleeding’ currently taking place.

Toll Road update

This month has seen the announcement that government plans (again?) to see the start of construction of six toll roads in 2012, the long awaited missing link on the Jakarta Outer Ring Road, W2 between Ulujami and Kebon Jeruk topping the list. The economic loss through the long delay to building this link has been huge. Other key links include the proposed 6 Jakarta city links, for which bidding is to commence, and the key long-awaited Transjava link extending eastward from Cikampek to Palimanan. 

Featuring also in the announcement is the 60km link from Cileunyi to Dawuan, important for linking the city of Bandung to the northeast and the proposed site of a new international airport. This route will need significant government level support since the cost of construction compared with the initial traffic conditions make this difficult to attract private sector investment in the normal way.

Land Acquisition law

I am being continually asked what has happened to the long-awaited new Land Acquisition Law, considering it was supposed to emerge from the legislature in July past, before the fasting month. A preview of its conditions would imply a significant improvement to the conclusion of land purchase negotiations, particularly important for toll road developments. The signing of the Law is necessary before the various implementing regulations are put in place and these will take time. It looks like 2013 before the new process will be implemented, but I would like to be surprised and find the system all ready to go before that, as it should be.   


Roads at whatever level, along with ports, are absolutely vital to the country’s forward economic growth. It is to be hoped that there is now seen serious development on all the long-delayed key links. Will this happen?