General News of Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

A walk about on accident-prone George Walker Bush Highway

In 2006, Ghana secured $547 from the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to undertake a number of development projects, including the construction of the motorway extension from the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange to the Mallam Junction, which had been abandoned for more than four decades by successive governments.

But the excitement that greeted the completion and opening of the George Walker Bush Highway fast gave way to tears and sorrow for many families whose loved ones were killed on the highway.

Almost one year of its inauguration on February 15, 2012, Kofi Yeboah assesses safety concerns on the highway as he takes a three-and-half hour walk on the 14.1 kilometre road.

With 43 people killed on it in between February and November, 2012, including a policeman returning home from duty and a schoolgirl on her way to school, the George Walker Bush Highway has gained notoriety as a death route in Accra.

Public figures who sustained injuries on the fast moving road include Nana Ama McBrown and her boyfriend in an early morning accident last week Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Nana Ama is still on admission at the 37 Miliary Hospital.

The construction of the highway and its sheer magnificence had been a source of joy for many Ghanaians but today, it has become a source of grief for many families, as it claims the lives of their loved ones in gory accidents.

Vehicular crashes and knockdown of motor riders and pedestrians crossing the highway in horrific circumstances have become regular occurrences on the 14.1-kilometre three-lane, high-speed dual carriageway.

The stretch between Awoshie traffic light intersection and the Achimota Overpass has been the black spot on the highway, where the blood of the young and the aged has been spilled over the past year.

An iced-water hawker at Abeka Lapaz, Doris Ampomah, who claimed to have seen the bodies of the schoolgirl and a motor rider after they were knocked down by speeding vehicles, described the scene as horrific.

“I could not eat for some time; I was totally shattered after seeing their bodies,” she told the Daily Graphic.

The cause of the deaths is most unfortunate and, indeed, so irrational!

First, it is irrational to construct such an international highway through densely populated communities without making adequate provisions for pedestrian walkways from one side of the road to the other.

The six footbridges constructed on the highway are too far apart (about a 30-minute walk from one footbridge to another) and far removed from densely populated locations.

There are no footbridges at densely populated locations like Awoshie, Kwashieman and Abeka Lapaz traffic light intersections where they seem to be needed most, considering the large number of people who cross the highway at those points.

The nearest footbridges are about 15 minutes’ walking distance away from those traffic light intersections, and so many pedestrians, after alighting from commercial vehicles, find it burdensome to access the footbridges.

They just walk or run across the highway, knowing very well the risk involved, but damning the consequences all the same.

A mobile phone dealer at Abeka Lapaz, Samuel Agyei, lives at Tabora, a suburb of Accra, and so every day, he crosses the highway to work and back home.

“I know it’s risky to cross the road; but why should I walk all the way up there to climb the footbridge and walk all the way back again to take vehicle home when the station is just across the highway,” he submitted.

The Ghana Highway Authority (GHA), in collaboration with some road safety institutions, had undertaken a safety audit during the designing stage of the highway to find out whether the project satisfied all the requisite principles of safety.

Some key recommendations were made after the safety audit but information gathered by the Daily Graphic indicates that not all of them were implemented.

According to sources, some of the recommended safety measures were sacrificed for cost and time, as the contractors raced to beat the January 31, 2012 deadline of Ghana’s Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA) compact.

After that deadline, Ghana was required to return any money that had not been used under its MCA compact.

As the Daily Graphic learnt, one of the safety audit recommendations was to construct more than six footbridges on the 14.1-kilometre highway, especially at densely populated locations.

Second, it is also irrational for pedestrians to risk their lives by walking or running across the highway, instead of using the footbridges provided, even if their location is not convenient.

One year after the inauguration of the George Walker Bush Highway, otherwise known as the N1 Highway, many communities and commuters along the highway corridor are yet to come to terms with the fact that the road, which they once crossed over to buy food and sell various products, has become a highway whose nature does not permit the old order.

Third, it is irrational for drivers to keep speeding through the densely populated areas, simply because it is now a highway.

Although speeding on the highway also puts the lives of drivers at risk, given the high incidence of accidents recorded on the highway, many drivers seem not to have taken any lesson notes, as some of them even indulge in reckless driving.

The prime objective of constructing the highway is to ease the chronic traffic situation on the Tetteh Quarshie-Mallam Junction and the Kaneshie-Mallam routes by about 80 per cent, according to the project consultants.

That objective may have been achieved but at a very huge cost to human life, considering the rampant accidents on the highway and the number of people killed as a result.

After the inauguration of the highway, the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC), in collaboration with some road safety institutions, undertook a safety audit on the highway and made some pertinent recommendations to enhance safety and minimise the spate of accidents and deaths.

But it appears the nation may have to grapple with more spillage of blood on the George Walker Bush Highway for some time to come.

That is because the Ghana Highway Authority (GHA) is still searching for funds to provide recommended safety facilities on the highway to help minimise the spate of knockdowns of pedestrians.

The Abeka Lapaz section, which has been the blackest spot on the highway, features prominently on the safety remedial agenda, which include the construction of additional four footbridges and safety accessories on the highway.

Indeed, in a Daily Graphic publication of March 16, 2012, the Project Manager, Mr John B. Koranteng-Yorke, was quoted as saying “An interchange is expected to be sited at Lapaz but we had to alter the plan for lack of funds”.

The safety intervention measures involve the provision of rail guards that would lead pedestrians to the footbridges, thereby preventing them from crossing the highway.

However, almost one year down the line, the GHA has not been able to secure the funding to redeem that proposal and save the lives of many pedestrians.

The only remedy the GHA has made on the highway is the provision of wire mesh fencing along the inner island to prevent pedestrians from jumping over it to cross the highway from one side to the other.

That intervention, which is nearing completion, is achieving positive results as the indiscriminate crossing of the highway has reduced drastically.

Having taken a three-and-half hour walk from the Mallam Junction end to the Tetteh Quarshie Intersection end of the highway, it was observed that the service lanes on both sides were not marked.

And it was obvious some motorists are not aware that the service lanes are two-way lanes, for which reason they drive recklessly, thus endangering safety.

According to the Director of Public Relations of the GHA, Mr N.B. Quarmor, the authority would soon provide road markings on the service lanes to address the problem.

The rampant accidents and knockdowns of pedestrians on the highway have prompted suggestions for the provision of speed limit facilities, such as ramps, at the densely populated sections.

But Mr Quarmor disagrees with those suggestions, maintaining that, “It’s a motorway and we must allow traffic to flow”.

He said there were many ways of providing safety on a highway without necessarily constructing ramps, pointing out that when the additional four footbridges and accessories were provided, they would enhance safety.

Another safety concern observed on the George Walker Bush Highway was poor lighting in the night at some sections of the road.

A few of the streetlight poles have even been knocked down following vehicular crashes but nobody is attending to them.

According to Mr Quarmor, after providing the streetlights, the GHA bears no responsibility for its maintenance.

He directed the Daily Graphic to the Department of Urban Roads (DUR), the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) to check which of them was responsible for the maintenance of streetlights on the highway.

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the AMA, Nuumo Blafo, said the responsibility of streetlights on highways lay in the bosom of the DUR.

But the DUR could not be reached to clarify that issue.

While the GHA is making frantic efforts to secure funds for the construction of the additional four footbridges and safety accessories, road safety managers are intensifying public education to help minimise the spate of accidents and deaths on the N1 Highway.

The Director of Communications at the NRSC, Kwame Kodua Atuahene, said the commission was continuing road user sensitisation in communities along the highway.

He said the NRSC had also requested for constant police presence on the highway in order to enhance safety.

The police, the Daily Graphic observed, were normally stationed at the traffic light intersections along the highway, especially when the traffic lights were off, to ensure orderliness.

Watching them perform that duty at the Abeka Lapaz traffic light intersection to manage human and vehicular traffic on the highway clearly indicates that there is a huge challenge in trying to manage vehicular and human traffic to stem the avoidable crashes.

But the police are not at post 24/7, especially during the night, and anytime the traffic lights go off at night, danger looms as pedestrians make frantic effort to cross the three-lane, high-speed motorway.