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Opinions of Tuesday, 11 March 2003

Columnist: Twumasi-Fofie, Kwame

Let?s Get It Right This Time

Unless the government fails to deliver on its promise, it is expected that very soon we?re going to see the construction of four major highways - Accra-Kumasi, Tema-Sogakokpe, Accra-Cape Coast and Accra-Mamfe roads - going on at the same time. What a difference this would make in our road network when all these roads are completed and completed well. On the other hand, what happens if we should end up constructing all of them the way and manner most of our existing roads have been constructed to date?

To start with, I wish to make it clear that I?m a layman, with no knowledge whatsoever in road engineering or town and country planning. The views I?m going to express about some aspects of our road construction and why I pray things would be done differently this time around are therefore purely and simply based on my personal observations as a road user.

Accra ? Tema Motorway

Our one and only motorway linking Accra and Tema is perhaps the oldest road in Ghana that has remained in good condition even with the minimum of maintenance work. The only thing wrong with the road was its lack of authorised access roads and provision for connecting one side to the other as a necessary precaution to ensuring unimpeded traffic flow in the event of one side being closed for repairs or any other reason. We also recall the unfortunate loss of life and property when the use of an unauthorised access road to the motorway led to a crash involving the convoy of ex-President Rawlings. I hope properly constructed and authorised access roads have since been connected to both sides of the road.

Coming next after the above road, which is a dual carriage, are of course the single lane highways linking Accra to other parts of the country and among which are those already referred to above. From available information so far, it?s not quite clear how much of these roads are going to be constructed from scratch, be rehabilitated or simply resurfaced. If similar past projects are anything to go by however, my best bet is that we?re going to see very little, if any, of large sections of the roads being newly constructed. And this is where my greatest fear lies. Would this mean that sections of the new Accra ? Kumasi highway are going to continue to serve as the main streets of Nsawam, Kibi, Nkawkaw, Konongo, Ejisu etc.? Frankly, I am of the opinion that under no circumstance should a section of a highway ? whether single or dual carriage ? at the same time serve as the main street of any town. Unfortunately, all over the country, this is what we see. Otherwise, why should all vehicles travelling between Accra and Kumasi, including heavily loaded articulated trucks, pass through the centre of heavily-populated towns like Nkawkaw and Nsawam for example? Apart from the loss of precious travel time, how can we afford to ignore the danger this heavy vehicular traffic between our two most important cities poses to citizens of these towns?

Highways or Feeder Roads?

Fortunately, whereas highway construction is relatively new to us we can easily tap the experience and expertise of other countries even from a casual observation. Imagine travelling from Italy to Hamburg in the northern part of Germany through Switzerland. How many days would it take if one had to drive through the centre of all these large cities in between ? Milan, Basel, Frankfurt, etc.

Unfortunately, a critical look at our road network doesn?t indicate a clear distinction between feeder roads, country roads and highways except that whereas the first one is generally a dirt road (?mfutu kwan?) the last one is usually asphalt. As a matter of fact, many of our present day highways are upgraded ?country? roads from the colonial era. There may be a few here and there (the Accra ? Tema Motorway being one), but I personally don?t know of many completely new highways built from scratch to finish since Independence. What this means is that it is practically the same concept of using feeder and secondary roads to connect villages and towns that we are using to ?construct? our highways. The result is that they all cut through cottages and villages along the way from point ?A? to ?B?. This has to change! Access to and from villages and towns along a highway should be by entry and exit secondary roads. If it should become unavoidable to route a section of a highway through a built-up area (like the Tema Motorway Extension) the road should be fenced to deny access to reckless local taxi and ?tro-tro? drivers and pedestrians including hawkers.

Political Interference?

I have too much respect for our road engineers to believe that they are not already aware of what I?m talking about. I?m therefore inclined to suspect that political interference may be the most likely reason behind this problem of roads passing through towns. When I talk of ?political interference? I?m not necessarily referring to instructions from ?above?. If the citizens of a particular town put undue pressure on their Parliamentarian to do whatever it takes to ensure that a particular highway passes through their town when they know very well that doing so would not be in the national interest, I consider this to be ?political interference?.

In the same way, if an honourable Member of Parliament should take it upon himself to lobby the authorities possibly including officials of AESC and Ghana Highway Authority (GHA), to route the road through the centre of a heavily populated town against obvious road engineering considerations, this too would be ?political interference?. The citizens of the town will be happy with having an asphalted main street and both the chief and the MP will take credit for it. But later, after a few children have fallen victim to road accidents, these same chief and people are going to appeal to the government for something to be done to protect their children from speeding drivers. Eventually, against all known highway regulations, some crudely constructed speed ramps will be made on the road ? a highway - to the inconvenience of all road users. Of course, the citizens of the town are not going to be bothered by these speed ramps because for them that is not a highway linking two or several important towns but rather ?their? main street.

Designated Stops and Market Places

Recognising the popularity of petty trading in our society and the fact that hawkers will always find a way to create a marketplace at the least opportunity, I would suggest that provision would be made for specially designated stops where traders can sell to travellers. However, every effort should be made to ensure that such areas are completely off the road. Once this is done, hawking on unauthorised points of a highway could be made a punishable traffic offence.

Traffic Jams

Not even a casual observer will fail to note that the heaviest traffic congestion in our cities occurs at the exit/entry points. This is simply a result of competition for space by local as well as transit vehicles. What a difference would it make if traffic between the south and the north would not add to the Kumasi city traffic? And what if that between the northern parts of the country and Tema or Aflao would not pass through Achimota? About a quarter of the time it takes to travel from Accra Central to Kumasi is spent on the stretch between Nkrumah Circle and the Police Barrier! And this state of affairs will remain so, and even get worse, so long as the bulk of traffic to and from the north continues to pass through highly populated areas of Accra.

Accra ? Takoradi Road

To date, one of the very good roads in Ghana is the Yamoransa ? Takoradi road which hopefully will soon become part of the Accra ? Takoradi highway. We all know that Cape-Coast, an important regional capital, lies between Yamoransa and Takoradi. Can we imagine how that stretch of the highway would look like if by mistake it had passed through the Centre of Cape-Coast? But of course the mere fact that Takoradi-bound travellers don?t have to settle scores with Cape-Coast taxi and ?tro-tro? drivers doesn?t mean that Cape-Coast is a neglected city, as some people would want to think. Trying to be more specific, I cannot believe that without any ?political interference? on the one hand or attempts by politicians to satisfy the chiefs and people of towns for ?political marks? on the other, the Kumasi ? Sunyani road should be cutting right through the centre of Bechem, Duayaw-Nkwanta and Abesim as it does. I picked this particular road not only because I use it quite often but mainly because it happens to be one of the good and not too old roads in the country. But this is by no means an isolated case. Travel from Accra to Akosombo, a recently completed highway, and you?ll see some of the speed ramps I?m talking about. You get to Atimpoku and the feeling is that that?s the end of the road.

Thank God, all major arterial roads from Accra are soon going to be under construction! Unfortunately, I haven?t seen the various plans indicating where exactly these roads will pass. In other words, as I?ve said before, I?m not sure how much of the roads are going to be constructed, rehabilitated or resurfaced. But I pray to God and appeal to the powers that be, that never again should travellers from Accra to Kumasi be forced to make excursions through the centre of Nsawam, Kibi, Nkawkaw, Konongo and Ejisu. And never again should an innocent Kibi school child be knocked down by an Accra ? Kumasi bound articulated truck!

I hope we will do things right this time around, not for the sake of our generation but for generations yet unborn.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.