One of the commitments that the NRM party made in the manifesto that it released in the run up to the 2011 General Election was to build new bridges or renovate others that had been constructed by previous governments.
The party listed 17 bridges in different parts of the country that it said were to be fixed between 2011 and 2015.
Some of those on the list included the Kyakamutaire-Kabaale bridge in central Uganda and Manafwa Bridge in eastern Uganda.
Kyakumutaire-Kabaale bridge is located on River Mayanja, which flows from the hills of Wakiso District and takes a northwesterly flow before emptying into River Kafu at the common border of Nakaseke, Kyankwanzi and Masindi districts.
The promise to work on the bridge seems to have been born out of the need to solve a transport and communication nightmare that had arisen following a breakdown of the bridge which is the quickest and shortest link between Nakaseke and Kyankwanzi districts, both within what is known as the cattle corridor.
While the 15km Kalyabulo-Ngoma road is the shortest link between the two districts, the state of the bridge had made the road impassable, forcing travellers to either use alternative routes, which are much longer or resort to canoes.
President Museveni is one of those who had on at least two occasions been forced to use the canoes in order to access Nakaseke from Kyankwanzi and vice versa.
Crossing by canoe was, however, not cheap. Canoe operators would charge up to Shs35,000 per person per crossing yet there were always no guarantees of safety of people and goods as many travellers would be attacked by crocodiles.
The situation meant that the predominantly farming communities dealing in dairy and beef products and a range of food items such as bananas, beans and maize were having a torrid time accessing markets.
The contract for the Kyakumutaire-Kabaale bridge was eventually handed to Terrain Services Limited in January 2015. The firm was to do the work at a cost of Shs14.5 billion.
Work, which included construction of the bridge, road embankments of gravel and access roads and at least 1.2kms as one approaches the bridge from either side, was meant to commence on February 18, 2015, and get completed on February 17, 2017. The completion date was, however, extended to May 17, 2018.
In eastern Uganda, Manafwa bridge, which had been constructed by the colonial administration, had been lined up for work in order to assist it cope with the increased flow of traffic and accommodate the heavy trucks that have recently come on the market.
However, work on the bridge did not begin as had earlier been scheduled between 2011 and 2014.
In February 2015, after cracks had developed on River Malaba Bridge at Ndaiga, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) diverted heavy trucks traffic off the Busia-Jinja road to the Tororo-Mbale road to connect to Kampala via Tirinyi road.
This brought pressure on the Manafwa Bridge, causing it to develop heavy cracks.
The Ministry of Works and UNRA were then stampeded into action.
Early in March 2016, UNRA contracted Terrain Services Limited to carry out renovation of the bridge at a cost of Shs9.7 billion.
The work, which included construction of a 25m span bridge and tarmacking approach roads, was meant to commence on April 21, 2016, and get completed by June 16, 2017, but the finish date was extended by another two months.
While completion of work on Kabaale Bridge has not yet led to an increase in traffic flow between Nakaseke and Kyankwanzi, the local leadership is optimistic that many development programmes in the area which have until now been held back due to difficulties in movement, will now take off.
The cost of transport has over the last few months since the bridge was opened to traffic dropped from Shs35,000 for movement between the two districts to between Shs10,000 and Shs15,000.
Dairy farmers from both districts have also found it easier to ferry milk to Dwaniro Dairy Chilling plant in Kiboga using the cheapest and shortest route via the bridge.
Cases of milk going bad because of lack of access to freezing facilities have been reduced.
Similarly, there has been a boost in trade in agricultural produce from Kiboga.
Farmers in Kiboga are selling their produce while residents in Nakaseke and Kyankwanzi are now accessing food products from their neighbours with more ease.
In eastern Uganda, improvements to the Manafwa Bridge have led to the enhancement of the structure’s capacity to not only handle heavy trucks, but also deal with large volumes of traffic.
Mr Aaron Kalusuli, a resident of Busiu Town Council, which neighbours the bridge, says there have been fewer accidents at the facility ever since it was rehabilitated.
“This bridge used to be a death trap, accidents were the order of the day, especially during rainy seasons, but now everything has changed,” Mr Kalusuli says.
Work on the bridge has also helped spur businesses and given a big boost to the housing sector with very many residential and commercial buildings being erected.
Growth of the housing sector has led to an increase in trade in building materials, especially for those involved in sand mining, which is one of the biggest activities in the area.
Mr James Mandu, a sand miner, reported an increase in the volumes of business, saying demand for the building material has shot up since the bridge was opened.
The accommodation and restaurant businesses in several towns on the Tororo-Mbale road have also had more clients.
Many trucks have stopovers for either meals or accommodation, developments which have also helped opened employment opportunities.
Mr Allan Ssempebwa Kyobe, the media relations manager in the office of the UNRA executive director, Ms Allen Kagina, says work on the two bridges has been done with varying progress. Works on one are fully complete and another is on course to be completed.
“Work on Manafwa Bridge is substantially complete while that on Kabaale is complete. The Kabaale Bridge project is now under the defects liability period (DLP). The contractor’s work is done, but he has to stay on site for the next one year to ensure that any defects that come up are immediately fixed,” he said.
At the same time, five out of the 25 project affected persons are yet to be compensated. All the 25 were meant to have received sums to the tune of Shs243.7m, but a total of Shs203.8m has so far been handed out.
Works on the two bridges were fully funded by the government of Uganda. For that, the planners in government and those that were charged with the responsibility of implementing the projects deserve credit.
The bridges and structures department of UNRA deserves a commendation for a job well done in as far as supervising works on the projects. Word coming in from the leadership in the areas where the projects have so far been implemented point at public satisfaction with the quality of work.
While there are already reports of physical and economic growth in Mbale District, there is optimism in Nakaseke and Kyankwanzi that Kabaale Bridge will spur economic growth. Nakaseke North MP pointed out that she expects Ngoma to grow into a major business hub. This optimism once again reinforces our belief that strategic investments in key infrastructure projects will indeed give a major boost to economies in areas where the projects are implemented.
At a time when there are cries about unequitable distribution of resources, those in government should be working in such a way that they try to balance the distribution and implementation of major infrastructure projects.
Reported by Isaac Mufumba, Fred Wambedde and Dan Wandera