IT was indeed encouraging the other day to read about work-in-progress of trying to address, once and for all, the problem of congestion in Dar es Salaam’s roads. Before that Mr. President himself also talked about the government’s intention to undertake massive investment in Dar’s road infrastructure in order to ensure that traffic jams in the city become thing of the past. So we are told people of Dar es Salaam are soon to witness construction of ‘high-rise’ roads called flyovers. The design work, (or is it feasibility study?), is already in high gear with consultants figuring out how to go about the job of erecting them.
If everything goes as planned then we should have flyovers in place, hopefully, before 2015 elections. What a nice parting gift for a hard-charging President (Opposition take no offense). For sure, flyovers will join other landmarks such as Ikulu and the new national stadium for being historic to people of Dar just like the Bunge and University of Dodoma are to the people of Dodoma, the capital city that never was. One can only hope that the flyovers will do magic we desperately need to the elusive problem of poor road infrastructure in what is supposed to be a House of Peace now turned nightmare to the motorists.
Of course, we are in total agreement that Dar’s road network is pathetic condition both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, there can be technical and policy disagreement on the best approach to addressing the problem. The disagreement stems from the very nature of road system. Experts tend to agree that any amount of improvement on the system serve only as temporary relief before the problem re-emerges with vengeance. This is the experience in most countries and/or cities. For example, in Washington DC they have twelve lanes road, six in each direction, they refer to it as the Beltway, but it has never solved the problem congestion.
Even here in Dar there is evidence to that effect. For example, some of us who are users of Morogoro road before and after multi-billion rehabilitation work know better of dashed hopes when it comes to traffic jams. Before rehabilitation someone residing at Kimara Baruti, hardly 2 kms from Ubungo junction had to hit the road at around 5.30-6 am in order to be at Ubungo Mataa at 7-7.30, a cool one and half hours! We were greatly relieved when rehabilitation was completed but the relief turned out to be short-lived. Today we are back to square one with more or less the same old time schedules. Indeed, it won’t take long for users of ‘new’ Kilwa Road to appreciate this basic commonsense.
Back to flyovers, our subject matter for today. I have no doubt whatsoever, that flyovers are cute and they do reflect modernity in the sphere of infrastructure development. However, they are not without downside. First and foremost, they don’t come cheap in the sense that they are quite expensive to put in place. But the high-costs are justifiable if measured against efficiency in terms of time and energy saved. Secondly, it takes a while to plan and construct before they become available for use therefore one need to think in long-term. Thirdly, they are costly to maintain. Think of this: our ordinary tarmac roads are full of potholes now just imagine flyovers with gapping holes that can suck cars (or skyholes!).
The point is I have no problem with flyovers. I would definitely love to see Jangwani valley becoming a ‘mixing-bowl’ for flyovers getting people in and out of the city from all directions and not just Morogoro road. Of course, it will be taxing for some of us old drivers but all the same we will learn to cope even if it means going back to driving school. The issue I would like raise here is: while we are waiting for flyovers to materialize, may be in the next five years or so, is there anything that need to be done to ease the situation?
The answer to this question is definite yes. In Dar city there is over reliance on few main roads that take people in and out of the city centre: Morogoro, Nyerere, Uhuru, Kilwa, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Sam Nujoma and Mandela Expressway. This is the problem. What is missing in our strategy is not taking care of connecting roads. These are the kinds of roads with high potential of taking traffic pressure off our main roads. In absence of connectors motorists are forced to spend more time on main roads partly because they cannot make detours or shortcuts. The connector roads don’t have to be of tarmac to serve this purpose. Even well maintained gravel roads, (the word “kiwango cha changarawe”, sounds familiar?), can do wonders.
To appreciate this one has only to observe flow of traffic in some of these roads during morning and evening rush-hours. A good example of that is the one connecting Morogoro road to Sam Nujoma through Msewe, Changanyikeni and University roads. This is the road heavily traveled during both mornings and evenings despite the fact that it is in a very very bad shape. But still people prefer to make a detour 4-5 kms long and full of potholes instead of about one and half kilometers of tarmac! People who ply this road can swear that damage to cars, wear and tear, can be quite unbearable. They only use it because they have to. It is a tough trade-off to say the least.
Or, what about constructing a bridge on a stretch of road about 500-700 metres long connecting Mandela Expressway and Ubungo Maziwa – Kigogo road now under rehabilitation? The existing bridge can only accommodate one car at a time and the traffic is constrained thus inconveniencing motorists using it. Someone coming from Buguruni going to Mabibo or Manzese don’t have to go through Ubungo, a kilometer or two away. No need for flyover here. Just a simple bridge will add great value to the road now under rehabilitation. It will be value for money.
All in all, the whole issue about flyovers reminds us of a story about a French Queen (cannot remember the name) who upon seeing her subjects demonstrating in the streets over bread (either over shortages or prices), remarked: “if they can’t have bread they can as well eat cake”! Of course, even if we cannot manage simple, down-to-earth gravel roads with simple bridges it doesn’t mean that we can’t handle hanging or suspended roads, the flyovers. Talk about “Vipaumbele”!