The more an old cloth is patched, the weaker it becomes. The new patch could also be a mismatch and misfit. That is the state of a number of roads in Kampala City. The patches have made the roads not full of potholes but stretch of uneven tarmac bumps.
Just like cloth patching may not require expertise, it seems the patching of potholes is done by whoever can throw soil and pour tar on top. Judging from the uneven finishing, it appears anyone who can hold a spade to throw soil and pour hot tar on it is a road repairman.
The result, a pothole is replaced with bump on the road. The bumps have made some of the roads impassable. For some time, Lumumba Avenue was full of bumps in the guise of tarmac. It was a common scene to find men filling the potholes while others carrying buckets of dripping black tar poured it on the soil compacted in the holes.
Roads such as 8th Street in Industrial Area, Dwaliro around Mulago hospital, and Binaisa are among those that are patched more than once a year.
Mr Christopher Katongole, a highway engineer with Abubaker Technical Services and General Supplies Ltd, says:“Whenever water percolates through the void (unfilled space between a patch and the old surface of the road) it creates a hole. With time, if it is in the same place, it would need complete rehabilitation of the road not just patching up the potholes.”
According to Mr Katongole, potholes in the city roads range from one to 10 square metres. “When being patched, the top layer of Asphalt is 50mm while the lower base is stone filled,” he says.
He, however, adds that this is just a temporary solution to prolong the road life. “It costs a taxpayer Shs160,000 to refill every pothole. And this is not a permanent solution. Just to keep the road useable.”
I went out on a pothole count on some of the roads. According to Google maps, the 8th Street stretch from the Mukwano Road junction to Main Access road going down to 7th Street, is 1.3km with a total of 245 potholes. Based on Mr Katongole’s calculations, it would cost the city authority Shs39.2m every time they have to patch the road.
He says the bumps created by patching are not due to poor workmanship. “Many of the city potholes are small in size making it impossible for them to be machine patched. The manual patching cannot be as good as the machine and what we see is the best that can be done manually.”
On the quality of patching up the potholes, Mr Peter Kaujju, the KCCA spokesperson, blames entities that are involved in digging up the roads and don’t do a clean job on repairing the damages they cause.
“Utility companies dig up roads and poorly restore the areas they dig up,” he says. Despite the digging up by the different utility companies, he admits that many of the roads in Kampala have outlived their design lifespan and also that the traffic load has increased beyond what the roads were designed to handle.
“The main reason for potholes in city roads is because most paved roads do not have the strength to support the traffic load. These roads are serving way beyond their intended life and load,” he says.
City roads have a lifespan of 15 years maximum, beyond which they are prone to potholes. Besides the lifespan, the Mr Katongole says even the load design determines how long a road will survive.
“Most city roads have a load design of 50 tonnes but vehicles and trucks weighing way above their load design use them. This causes them to fail before their design life.”
Mr Katongole cites Bukerere Road, which branches off Jinja Highway at Seeta and connects to the bypass via Namugongo.
“This road was designed for small vehicles and trucks below 50 tonnes. But fuel tankers and other heavy trucks and trailers use the route to avoid jam on Jinja Road. In such circumstances, the road will not last to its design plan life.”
As part of its mandate, KCCA takes care of the city roads and has an annual budget to patch roads. Mr Kaujju says, “as KCCA, we spend up to Shs5b every year patching up roads in the city.”
Mr Katongole’s costing of patching a pothole in Kampala that money would be able to patch 31,250 potholes. This is sealing the pothole with a stone base and 50mm of asphalt.
Pothole patching on city roads is attributed to lack of funds for complete resurfacing of the roads. According to Mr Katongole, it costs Shs4b to construct a kilometre of city road. “This covers the surfacing of the road, constructing the pedestrian walkway, cab stones and water channels,” an amount of money that Mr Kaujju says KCCA does not have.
“We don’t have the budget to overhaul all city roads, the least we can do is to continually patch them.” He admits that there are many roads in the city that have served beyond their intended time and need total overhaul.
“All paved roads in the city that continue to serve beyond their intended life must be rehabilitated, but in the meantime we are continuing to work within our means as we look for funding to expedite these works.”
Eighth Street in Industrial Area is slightly more than one kilometre stretch with a total of 245 potholes. Along this stretch there is a concentration of potholes between the Monitor Publications Ltd entrance and the Vivo Energy tank farm.
Another of the city roads that has seen more patchwork than actual road construction is Dwaliro Road stretching from Nkizi Road past the Old Mulago via the hospital main entrance to Binaisa Road.
According to Google maps, the road is a 1.73km stretch with a total of 575 potholes. It would cost Shs92m to patch it up. With two rainy seasons a year that makes it Shs184m to maintain a distance of 1.73km.
Due to concentration of potholes at some sections on this road like at the point where Hospital Staff road joins Dwaliro road it becomes a traffic hold up creating a jam at peak hours.
The 7th Street in Industrial Area is a 3.4km stretch and home to a number of warehouses and two fuel depots - Gapco and Vivo Energy. Fuel tankers and trailers of all tribes are a common sight on this street.
The road has a total of 103 potholes and with the rainy season still on, the number is likely to increase. Besides those in the weather made potholes there are two open manholes in the road. Near Gapco fuel depot there is a pothole running across the road, also on the same street there is another pothole running across the street on the edge of the hump.
City roads in numbers
2110km. Total distance of roads in Kampala.
500km. Total distance of paved roads in Kampala.
Shs160,000. Amount charged to fill each pothole.
Shs5b. Money available for road maintenance in a year.
31,250. The number of potholes that can be filled with KCCA’s budget.
Shs4b. Cost of constructing one kilometre in Kampala.
15 years. Lifespan of city roads.
50mm. Thickness of Asphalt on the streets of Kampala.