In the second week of December 2013, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) announced that construction work on the Kampala-Jinja Express Highway was would commence in 2015.
UNRA’s Corporate Communications Manager at the time, Mr Daniel Alinange, said work on the 77km stretch would cost nearly Shs800 billion and that the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development had already slapped a ban on further development on land in areas the road was planned to pass through.
“The master plan for the road is already in advanced stages, and we shall be moving full throttle in 2014 to address issues like compensation of affected persons,” Mr Alinange then said.
He said the design of the eight-lane carriage and two bus lanes was drawn by a Japanese engineering firm.
The road had been expected to branch off the current Kampala-Jinja highway at Banda, and run through Kinawataka, Bweyogerere, Mukono, parts of Lugazi Sugar Works plantations, Nyenga and Buikwe before connecting to Jinja through the New Nile Bridge, which is currently under construction.
The plan for the highway to cross part of Lugazi plantation was meant to avoid the expressway running through Mabira Forest, which environmentalists want preserved.
The road was also expected to connect to the Southern Bypass by way of a network of tunnels and flyovers.
The project was meant to be undertaken as a Private Public Partnership (PPP), with government providing the bulk of funding as a co-financer. The idea was that the core investor would build, own and operate the toll road for 25 years from the date of commissioning. It was presumed this would considerably reduce the burden that wholesale undertaking would have squarely placed on the shoulders of government.
Clearance to use the expressway would be for a user to buy specifically designated token coins obtained before access.
According to UNRA’s projections, commissioning had been expected to take place in 2020.
The only progress so far towards realizing the promise was UNRA’s selection in June 2014 of the International Finance Corporation to work as its lead transaction advisor in the process of assessing the potential to develop the highway on a PPP basis.
Spea Engineering was then hired to assist URNA to identify possible investors for the project.
But outside of those two initiatives, and close to three-and-half years since UNRA made the announcement, residents of areas through which the road was meant to pass are yet to be compensated and construction work has never began.
According to the UNRA’s Director of Communications, Mr Mark Ssali, work on the express highway is progressing.
“Feasibility studies have been updated and submitted for approval by the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Committee. When that approve comes, which will be soon, we hope procurement will commence,” he said.
Mr Ssali said the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank Funding, which will constitute government’s contribution towards the project, has already been approved.
Other sources within the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning have since told Daily Monitor that the European Union (EU) and the Government of France through the French Development Agency (AFD are contributing €180 million (approximately Shs707.5 billion). Each of them has contributed €90 million (approximately Shs353.8 billion).
During the July 2014 Financing Summit for Africa’s Infrastructure, which took place in Dakar, Senegal, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), identified the Kampala-Jinja express highway as the sixth infrastructure projects that were lined up for development before 2020. COMESA allocated $74 million (approximately Shs170.32 billion) towards its development.
Since actual work is yet to begin, Uganda is yet to tap into those funds.
Besides, the road, which forms part of the Northern Corridor of the Trans-Africa highway, which links Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of the Eastern DR Congo (DRC) to Kenya and the Indian Ocean Port of Mombasa, Kenya, to the Atlantic Ocean Port of Matadi, in the DR Congo, is arguably the busiest and most congested road in Uganda.
Travelling on this 80km road, which used to take less than an hour, has now become every traveller’s nightmare. Traffic often slows down to a crawl, especially between Kampala and Mukono town. Covering the 23km stretch sometimes takes motorists between one and half and two hours.
While the rest of the road is not very congested, its narrow stretches constrain motorists. It only ceases becoming a single lane in either towns or on climbing lanes. That means that travelling on those stretch takes motorists nearly 3 to 4 hours.
The traffic jams also mean increased fuel consumption, which is not good for business.
With the Mukono-Kayunga-Njeru route as the only alternative for motorists who find themselves caught further down the road towards Jinja when trees in Mabira forest fall across the roads or when trailers overturn are often forced to park for hours on end until when help the Police brings in Cranes to move the trees and trailers, such delays coupled with high fuel consumption means the cost of doing business in Uganda gets much higher.
Matters are further complicated by lack of alternative mode of transport. While a few traders occasionally use the railway transport system to move goods between Kampala and Jinja, there are no passenger train services.
Air transport between Kampala and Jinja is yet to be developed and water transport between the Jinja Pier and Port Bell on Lake Victoria has not been operational for more than 15 years now.
“Heavy traffic jams on the current highway have been affecting business. No one wants to stop and no one wants to construct a house in an area in which he spends so much time on the road when he wants to access it. So we welcome the express highway. We think it will decongest the highway and make it easier for people to come and invest. I think the investments will even go as far down as Namawojjolo and Namataba areas”
Jackson Muyanja Ssenyonga, MP (NRM) Mukono County South
“If the time spent on travelling between Jinja and Kampala were reduced, it means that many more people would be staying in Jinja and working in Kampala, which would stimulate growth and development in Jinja and Busoga, which is centrally located. If the highway kicks off, it will serve as catalyst to a possible upgrade of the Kimaka Airfield to a regional or even international airport. Busoga stands to benefit a lot from this.”
Ahmed Osman Noor, Second Deputy Prime Minister of Busoga Kingdom
“I know there are fears that diversion of traffic might stall development, but the express highway will certainly quicken traffic on the existing highway. I think it will have a provision for movement of heavy trucks which have been causing most of the congestion. I also think that the new express highway will help kick-start development in other areas in Buikwe District. The express highway is definitely very welcome” Isaac Ssozi Mulindwa, MP (NRM) Lugazi Municipality Buikwe District
Daily Monitor position
The difficulties experienced by travellers along the existing Kampala-Jinja highway are once again a reminder that in Uganda, those who hold the planning docket must be moving to put in place a master plan that will enable the country develop its capacity to make all alternative transport systems operational.
As government works towards ensuring work starts on the Kampala-Jinja Express highway, we also need to revive the lake water transport between the Jinja Pier and Port Bell. Steam-driven vessels should return to facilitate transportation of passengers and goods between Jinja and capital city Kampala.
Consideration should also be given the renovation of the Kimaka Air field in Jinja as the start of the reintroduction of flights between Jinja and Entebbe.
This, therefore, implies that such a master plan should not be allowed to go the way of most, which have been left to gather dust on shelves in government offices and departments. The plans should be put into action.