Roads start to crumble in end year rain mirage

Author: Mr Karoli Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.

What you need to know:

  • For budgeting purposes, this was a smart move, as UNRA became a super echelon, a major budget center whose budget year after year was programmed to rise, until fiscal reality and fiscal cliff caught up with the government.

Many countries have a strict highway classification system that classifies roads according to function, usage, capacity and how they are paid for. Some, like Kenya, have international highways, national highways and rural and urban roads. These are supplemented by network roads, toll-highways that support an existing road network. 

Accompanying the installation, maintenance and upgrades of these roads are extensive standards for construction, materials and life-span cycles. Countries have transportation stock counted in the number of km of paved, unpaved roads, all-weather, seasonal roads. They also have railway stock counted in kilometers of railway stock, railway hubs and rolling stock used to switch railway wagons.

A country’s transport inventory also counts airports, airfields and finally transit terminals which in the mega-cities combine one or more of these forms of transport.

UNRA took over the road management function of the Ministry of Works, and is slated to be folded back into the parent ministry. During its three lives, as the RAFU, UNRA I (2006-2014) and UNRA II (2014-todate) it has implemented a decent national roads network. However, in the course of its extension of the road network, the maintenance function could not keep up with the growing stock. Districts unable to maintain local and inter-district roads handed them to UNRA, so were some network roads on key traffic arteries. District Engineers gladly handed over these roads, especially as districts multiplied on the basis that they were almost national roads. What was once Mpigi district for example comprises Wakiso, Mpigi, Butambala, Gomba districts. Bushenyi, Iganga, the story is the same.

For budgeting purposes, this was a smart move, as UNRA became a super echelon, a major budget center whose budget year after year was programmed to rise, until fiscal reality and fiscal cliff caught up with the government. In an era where competition is scarce for government funds, flat revenue collection and rising debt service have deprived UNRA of the ability to manage the huge stock under its inventory. 

Conventionally, an upgraded road has three major assets; road designs, the road reserve and actual carriageway. It also has field staff familiar with all the chainages of the road which they can read from the field using GPS, or in the office from survey maps. For many years, the key authority on the state of the local roads was the District Public Works Department. A lot of institutional knowledge was lost in the centralization of the road management function.

When seasonal torrential rains start to pour, all calls flood UNRA Headquarters. When the Minister of Education was in charge of Karamoja Affairs, her staff always wondered why the roads were completely “washed away” during the rainy season.

 In Nwoya and Amuru, the largest districts in the Gulu sub-region, movement is completely halted except for emergencies and farmers, including large scale farmers camp on the farms waiting for the rains to abate and so on. This luxury cannot happen on international highways and every year now due to increasing road traffic especially during December at the end of the November rains, the Masaka highway in the Lwera-Katonga river basin faces structural challenges.

The same challenges are in the Bunamwaya-Lufuka swamp on Entebbe highway where the highway breaches all safety and environmental protocols constructed in a wetland where bridges would make the situation much easier. Sometimes it is a question of budgets, on the Entebbe Expressway, a beautiful sign, Nambigirwa Bridge, tells you are driving across a protected area.

It’s a pity that road planners are using outdated technology to manage road traffic. The Minister of Finance should direct URA, the tax collector that collects the environmental levy from used cars should be earmarking these funds for road and rail development work. In the absence of rail, it is impossible to impose reasonable weight and axle limits on highways, especially the international ones.

In the pristine areas, like the Game Parks, Semliki region (Bundibugyo) or Kamwenge, other pavements should be considered that maintain the ecological base. And each time a national disaster strikes like the mudslides, road maintenance should urgently repair the damage. The collapse of the Bundibugyo-Karugutu sections of a key road is ongoing while awaiting dispersed, and exhausted road maintenance crews dispersed all over the country.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. 

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