Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chinese Random Roadside Construction

I read recently that the average commute time for a typical person in a major US city is 35 minutes. The major news magazine shows have even featured new neighborhoods in California that are specially designed for airplanes. Instead of sitting in traffic jams, commuters to Silicon Valley or San Francisco fly to and from work. How cool is that? Check out stories about that here, here and here.

Like any modern person, I have a commute as well. Typically I take the bus 106 from my 东门中 stop to 南岭村. The trip usually takes about 25 minutes in the morning without traffic and 30+ minutes in the afternoon, depending on traffic. In general, it is a pretty good ride. One stretch of the road is a narrow highway next to the Shenzhen Reservoir. The early sun shining on the water is a pretty sight.

One of the recent things I’m noticed are big mounds of dirt on my route. Everyone who has been to China knows that there is constant construction everywhere. New buildings are appearing every 5 months. I’ve heard of a stat saying that China has 1/3 of the world’s construction cranes. Crazy stat. If you look at the Beijing skyline, it is filled with cranes.

After 5 months in Shenzhen, I have rarely seen any big construction cranes. I’ve only seen big mounds of dirt and road construction/repair, particularly outside of main Shenzhen city (深圳关外 instead of 关内, my work is located just outside of Shenzhen city).

The 30 minute commute in the morning and afternoon has now been extended to about 45 minutes. There are not more cars on the road. There are just, what seems to be mom & pop construction jobs going on everywhere. Here are the characteristics:

  • New road construction projects (I’ll call RCPs) can pop up anywhere and everywhere. It doest matter if it’s in the middle of a parking lot or in a major intersection.
  • RCPs are dug out with complete disregard for pedestrian or car traffic.
  • Most RCPs happen outside of the main part of Shenzhen. The suburbs, in general, are crazy (很乱). Higher crime rate, prostitution, ect. I guess that also applies to road construction.
  • The Chinese workers for these RCPs all work at night. You never see anyone working during the day.
  • There are no signs to warn you. There are no detour routes or anything else to direct traffic. There is only a small little makeshift gate or fence around it. (Think about this happening on your local highway in the US. Just unimaginable.)
  • The dirt dug out of the ground goes everywhere. There are mini dust storms almost like ones seen in old westerns with John Wayne.
  • Contracts to work on roads are very competitive and lucrative. The profits from getting a construction projection from the gov’t are huge!
  • Quality is iffy.

For now, I just want to thank China for making my commute longer. You can be blamed for me being late to work today. I'm also blaming you for my dirty shoes too.

Addition 2 (3/26/07): To respond the the 2nd comment made my Anonymous... In my opinion, it is important to look at the public face of China and differentiate it from its private attributes. The Shanghai Pudong airport is a state of the art airport in what is considered the most modern and "best" Chinese city. This means that the Pudong airport is a national treasure. This is why it is important that there was a international design competition and very international press on it. The same is true for the new buildings in Beijing, such as the National Theatre (Egg-shell), new Olympic Stadium (Birdnest) and Olympic Water Sports Arena (Water Cube).

My question is: does anyone know what company was has been hired to not design it, but actually construct it? As well, what was the bidding process behind that.

Addition 1 (3/22/07): To respond to the comment made by Anonymous, China's large road construction projects are indeed very competitive to obtain. This competition isn't direct or indirect bribery. It exists almost in the form of traditional US competition. There are many bids and proposals for the project and one is chosen. The only difference is that the bidding parties in China need to have some kind of high level connection (关系) in the local government to successfully bid. In the US, you need to have huge resources, a reputation and track record to successfully bid.


Anonymous said...

"Contracts to work on roads are very competitive and lucrative. The profits from getting a construction projection from the gov’t are huge!"

"Very competitive" is not consistent with "lucrative" and "huge profit", unless the competition is in the form of direct or indirect bribery.

Anonymous said...

In the Chinese context, competitive sometimes means lucrative. Why can say that designing Shanghai Pudong Airport was not a lucrative bet? It was also a very competitive one.

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