Feature Article of Sunday, 9 January 2011

Columnist: Baffour, Robert A.

Road Construction in Ghana: Who is in Charge? (Part 1)

Dr. Robert A. Baffour

Associate Professor of Transportation Engineering and the Vice President, Ghana Telecom University College

The Expansion of a roadway network or the construction of new roads in any community is a good sign of economic growth. Roads support economic growth and improves quality of life. It is of no surprise that governments spend huge sums of money to invest in road projects. In the past several years, Ghana has seen a significant change in road works. New roads are being constructed and old roads are being rehabilitated. In some parts of the country, Ghana can boast of six lane roads that help move people and goods. While road construction follow a specific set of rules to make sure the right things are done, it appears these basic rules do not apply very well especially when the projects are being executed in developing countries such as Ghana. In most instances, roads under construction are also open to traffic simultaneously. Detours, alternate routes, and proper signage are virtually nonexistent. Communities affected by these construction works have virtually no say in the process. Health and safety issues are seriously ignored resulting in loss of life and severe illnesses. There are several issues associated with the way roads are constructed in this country. The roadway contractors, the supervising engineers and all those associated with the construction of such roads as Achimota-Ofankor, Tetteh Quarshie-Legon, Motor way extension to Malam, should bow their heads in shame for under representing the interest of the people of Ghana. The objective of this article is to provide some basic information to educate the average Ghanaian about what to expect when it comes to road construction. It is also intended to tell the Ghanaian engineers who supervise these road projects to provide the right engineering services to the nation. With this article, it is hoped that people of Ghana will begin to demand what is right and that they will not be taken for granted when it comes to projects done in their own communities.

All things being equal, the science and art of road construction should not change because of location. The steps involved in constructing a three kilometer six lane road should not differ from one country to the other simply because one is a developed country and the other is a developing country. For example, a contractor should use the same methods and common engineering and construction principles to construct this three kilometer road in the United States and in Ghana. Corruption, poor supervision, and poor enforcement are some of the factors that affect change in rules. Roads that are supposed to last for twenty years last for two years in Ghana,

The steps involved in the construction of a road are many and usually involves lots of people and agencies. The initial idea to provide a road, the selection of the road location, the purchase of land, the survey of land, the involvement of the community, the demolishing of properties, bulldozing, digging, traffic re-assignments, pouring of asphalt or concrete, and handing over are some of the key steps involved in the roadway construction process. While most of these processes are obvious, this article will touch on some of the processes that are not so obvious to the public. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to use some examples. Example 1: The road that carries traffic from the Achimota school area to the Accra-Tema motorway extension is closed due to construction. A new driver from the 37 Military Hospital through Dwowolu heading towards the Achimota school area will find it very difficult to get there. There are no detour signs to guide drivers from this point to the other side of the road. Example 2: A new driver from Circle heading toward New Achimota using the ABC junction will be confused once he/she gets there. In fact the very day the road was closed (with no warnings or signage), I used the road in the morning to go to work but found that section closed in the evening. I had to continue on to Tantra Hill before making a left turn to find my way back. A driver new to this area will have a serious challenge. In sum, providing detours and signage for closed roads is simply poor and it shows a complete disregard of professionalism and also lack of respect for the people of Ghana. This cannot happen in England, cannot happen in the United States and therefore should not happen here in Ghana.

How many times have you or a member of your community been involved in deciding the kinds of transportation projects that affect your community? Have you ever wondered how decisions are made about transportation projects that affect your life? Have you ever been bothered about why a road being constructed is also opened to traffic at the same time? Have you ever been concerned about why road construction processes may be different from developed countries to developing countries? Does it bother you when you have to pass through a three feet water on a road because the road to work is under construction? Have you ever experienced a situation where the road you used to work in the morning was closed during the evening and going back home was a problem because there were no guiding signs? Have you ever wonder how businesses fair during such construction projects?

In short, do you think you have any right to be involved in making decision that will help answer some of the questions raised above? Yes, in modern transportation and highway projects, it is imperative that the public is involved in helping change the direction of such projects. Civil and construction engineers are no longer the only stakeholders in the roadway construction projects. It is now a community wide project where all stakeholders including community leaders, environmentalist, engineers, teachers, business owners, etc are deeply involved from the conception of the project to the end of the project. Until communities and the citizens of Ghana demand a fair treatment to make sure our health is taken into consideration, our safety is assured and that our money is being used wisely, such projects will always be done with such poor judgment as we see on our roads daily. Where else in the world can one see a road project being executed like the project going on in Ofankor. We all have to be ashamed that such a thing is going on in our neighborhood.

While the time involved in completing a highway project depends on several factors, one always wonders how communities are subjected to long span of construction time. Such times and delays are most of the time not warranted. Can anyone justify shutting down the though movement from Tetteh Quashie to Legon for 10 years? 10 years is long enough to destroy an entire community, to cause so much pollution in a residential area, enough to destroy several businesses and livelihoods, ten years in roadway construction is long enough to kill lots of people either directly or indirectly. The bottom line is these projects should be planned well to minimize the social and economic impact of the people of this country.
A proper roadway construction process demands that a temporary alternate road is provided. In addition to providing these alternate roads, proper detour or diversions with proper signs are provided to motorist till they find themselves back to the main road of travel. It appears this is not part of the roadway construction process in Ghana. Motorists are left to find their way through usually a very messy system that makes travel very unpleasant, unsafe and time consuming.

Public infrastructure construction workers especially highway construction workers are exposed to hazards from outside and inside the work zone. More so in Ghana, the safety dimension are very different especially with Taxi and Trotro drivers using all available means to get to their destination. Proper engineering practices demands that proper safety procedures are used to protect both the construction workers and also the travelling public. Work zone signs, cones, barricades, flagging, etc. are useful to minimize accidents. In Ghana, signs are not adequate, barricades (usually stones) that are usually put to protect humans are either inadequate or are removed by taxi and trotro drivers, flagging are most of the time not present. Driving in a construction zone in Ghana is tantamount to driving in a dead zone. Whoever is responsible for overseeing the proper adherence to construction safety practices need to buckle up before the unexpected happens.

It is important that road construction are done at times that will minimize delays. It is very obvious that there is absolutely no respect for the driving public when it comes to road constriction. It appears decision to construct a road does not consider delays to travelers at all. The question is, do the contractors use the same construction principles when they construct roads in their own countries? If the answer is no, then why Ghana?
Wait for part two