Fri, 18 Jun 2004 Feature Article

Does Ghana need a Highway Development Bill?

Does Ghana need a Highway Development Bill?

I begin this article by posing the simple question whether Ghana needs a “highway development bill”, by way of Cabinet proposing such a bill for Parliament's consideration and adoption.

My simple answer is that I believe so, yes.

About 98 per cent of freight carriage in Ghana is by road. Road transport also accounts for almost 95 of passenger traffic. The prevailing deficiencies with Ghana's basic system of two-lane roads, which predates our independence as a nation, are quite discernible in the areas of safety, capacity and need. As a small but progressive country, Ghana requires a newer, more extensive highway system than the one we currently have. The strategic importance of highway infrastructure to local, national and sub-regional development is obvious and should be accorded the necessary attention by all.

Let me confess that I am no highway engineer, (but perhaps because my late father was, I have acquired a child's natural curiosity for anything highway-related). Further, I have not had access to the law establishing the Ghana Highway Authority or other related institutions and so the level of intellectual rigor may be less than desired. I hope that such gaps will be filled by the enthusiasm with which I write on this compelling topic.

Eisenhower was also inspired

In the context of this write-up, I have been inspired by my observations and personal experiences with the state of roads in Ghana and elsewhere; my understanding of President Nkrumah's early vision on road development in Ghana, which in one instance manifested into the now renowned Accra-Tema motorway; and my belief in the usefulness of President Kufuor's continuing vision for road development which is a sub-theme under the infrastructure component of government's five priority action pillars for development. I have also relied on the interstate highway act signed in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which ushered into being what has been hailed as the "Greatest Public Works Project in History", and radically changed the landscape of America's highway system. Eisenhower himself, at the time that he was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, took inspiration from the German autobahns, a system of highways the Germans created to connect large urban areas.

Let me explain that the utility of a highway development bill would be to encapsulate in a legislative instrument, a Master Plan that combines the existing road networks into a new construction plan for the development of a national network of rural and urban express highways that could be called the “National Highway System,” which may not be subject to changes (usually following changes in political administrations or as a result of political expediency), save by amendment. It is envisaged that the highway development bill would aim at expanding 2-lane highways in rural areas to 4-lane highways, as well as to develop 6-lane highways also. Perhaps, it needs to be stated that the term `2-lane highway' means a highway that has not more than 1 lane of traffic in each direction, whilst `4-lane highway' means a highway that has 2 lanes of traffic in each direction. A '6-Lane highway means a highway that has 3 lanes of traffic in each direction.

The essence of this article is, therefore, to “float a few ideas”, which if found useful could help strengthen the nation's highway system, by giving support for a concerted action to build, improve and maintain a comprehensive and well integrated highway system for the benefit of Ghana.

There is need for diligent preparatory work

Prior to the highway development bill being presented to Parliament, there is a need for the Ministry responsible for Roads and Highways, in full consultation with its subsidiary agencies, particularly the Ghana Highway Authority and the Departments of Urban Roads and Feeder Roads, as well as Regional Administrations and District Assemblies, to undertake tedious but necessary preparatory work such as taking inventory of Ghana's network of roads, which is estimated to be a total of some 40,000 kilometers, in the three categories of trunk, feeder and urban roads. Also needed to be proposed are measures to widen and improve our highway system and construct new highways linking nearly all major cities with an established population size, of let's say fifty thousand or more.

The next logical step would be for the relevant agencies to carry out the required planning, design, and environmental scoping for expanding eligible 2-lane highways to 4-lane highways and the construction of 6-lane roads, where appropriate. I believe that at that stage the constraint of financial resources, should not be a deciding factor. What must be cardinal at such a stage should be the development of plans and designs of best approaches to the construction of durable roads at lowest possible cost.

In carrying out this critical phase of the preparatory work, it would be useful to establish in the working team's terms of reference, core criteria of operational objectives to address pertinent socio-economic concerns including:

· projects to improve highway safety on the most dangerous 2-lane roads on the national road network;

· projects on roads for which the annual volume of commercial vehicle traffic is high or is expected to increase after the passage of the bill;

· projects relating to the existing trans-West Africa coastal highway as well as new ones (for instance two new east-to-west highways in middle and upper Ghana joining our borders with our neighbours) that can facilitate Ghana's economic objectives pursuant to ECOWAS' protocols on the free movement of persons as well as of goods and services;

· projects on rural roads with high levels of commercial truck traffic, including from food-producing areas;

· projects on highway corridors that will help stimulate regional economic growth and development in rural areas, including to potential tourist locations; and

· projects connecting all the urban areas of Ghana, linked by minor connecting roads.

Although I am no highway engineer, let me attempt to share some basic ideas on road construction, of which I am sure our engineers are much more familiar with.

To have a credible highway system it would be important that the road design be modern and appropriate, including components to facilitate highway safety and security such as grades, road signs, possible solar street lights at intervals for night traffic, solar radio telephones for emergencies, regulations for speed limits and axle loads etc.

It would also be useful to include in the highway design concept a national scenic component for beautification, encompassing the removal of billboards and the cleaning up of “thrash” along highways, as well as the designation of exits for rest stops, motels, gas stations and other service points. Unlike the older two-lane roads currently in use, the new system should be a unified system of four lanes or 6 lanes highways, with a grade in the middle, and other standards such as a new symbol and numbering system for naming the roads.

Further, (and this may be a difficult one for most politicians to accept), highways should not become the MAIN STREETS of villages and towns through which the highway passes. Safety concerns relating to heavy trucks and other vehicles stopping on highways to trade or engage in other activities as well as the dangers of over-speeding vehicles passing through should be obvious, with consequential additional transportation cost for businesses that utilise the highway. The simple proposition I make in this regard, using best practices of other countries, is that the highways to be constructed should either by-pass the center of villages and towns along its route or where it does, be constructed with underpasses or overpasses. Such designs should be complemented by well-defined EXIT routes (access roads out of the highway which later rejoin the highway) into and out of such villages or towns. Further, to make villages and towns benefit from the traffic flowing through their locality, and in the spirit of proper spatial planning, the exit routes should be complemented by modern markets or shops for the village or towns folk to sell their wares without having to come on to the highway itself.

I am always intrigued by the way access road (ramps) in Ghana merge onto major roads, usually at right angles (T-Junction) to the major road, perhaps a constraint imposed by the 2-lane system in place. The safety limitations of such road designs are unacceptable in any modern highway design and it is hoped that newer highway designs would address this concern by merging access routes gradually into the main highway, as happens in most countries abroad.

Financing mechanism and arrangements

If the bill is to be successful it should be costed and funded. In his regard, it is important that it have a full financial estimate of the cost of completing the projects, together with a financing mechanism for funding it. After costing the Master Plan, Government may wish to establish a highway development Fund by consolidating the now disparate sources of funding road construction, including the annual budget, the Road Fund, foreign loans and grants. Based on the schedule of work, the bill when adopted should include an appropriations section that appropriates from the Road Fund the relevant amounts for each year of completed work, up to the end of the completion of the project, example from 2005-2015.

It would certainly be important for a project of such magnitude to access new sources of funding such as the float of bonds, targeted for domestic resource mobilisation and foreign investment interest. Here, I submit that if done professionally Ghana should be able to have a successful bond float taking into account the country's favourable credit rating. In this respect, the proposed highway development bill, could offer government a strong and credible basis to seek funding.

The possibility for regional cooperative efforts in raising funds should also be fully explored, within the context of ECOWAS as well as NEPAD. ECOWAS' decision A/DEC/20/5/80, concerning the ECOWAS Transport Programme to promote the development and integration of transport infrastructure, harmonise regulations, eliminate physical and non-physical barriers between ECOWAS countries, is complemented by a Community Road Fund to finance the West Africa Highway. Joint actions by ECOWAS countries for financing to fund the West Africa Highway, with support from the development partners would also seem useful. NEPAD also has as one of its objectives the development of infrastructure throughout Africa and to this end an Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, which targets a assets base of US$305 million for private sector infrastructure projects should also factor in the country's calculations. The advantage of having a national Road Fund outside of the consolidated fund, could impact positively on the other socio-economic priorities of government.

Indeed, the above courses of action should relieve the Consolidated Fund and other recurrent revenue sources from the pressures it currently endures and free resources for strategic growth objectives, such as improving education, through qualitative improvements to teacher training, pedagogical changes, reduction of number of students per classroom; strengthening the public sector as a basis for mentoring private sector-led growth, through rejuvenation of the public service; application of information and communication technology as a tool of everyday work; and providing qualitative agricultural services to our rural farmers and to the small and medium scale agro-processing plants that should be basis for assuring food security, (and which could obviate the need for huge factories and its associated costs).

Also important would be a component for recovery of investment either notionally in the form of establishing the projects economic rate of return or more directly through measures such as a tariff regime, which, aside of existing petroleum tariff, could include new sources from, for instance, major users of road transport such as commercial trucks or heavy load distributors who utilise the road system and in a way are subsidised. Of course, the option of road toll is useable. In this respect, let me suggest that before a road is tolled, it should satisfy the condition of being at least a graded four lane road and must have alternate un-tolled routes. To ensure full usage of the tolled roads, size and weight restrictions may be placed on un-tolled routes to direct traffic in the form of heavy trucks, buses, etc. unto the tolled roads. In any event since such category of users are usually commercial-oriented their receptiveness of tolls is expected to be better than private users. Also, to ensure that the development of intra-regional economies does not suffer, the design should ensure that a continuous highway route within a region is not tolled more than once and perhaps only at the regional border mark, which can also aid law enforcement (though the police should not be responsible for manning the tolls but merely be present within the vicinity for highway patrol and law enforcement, should it be necessary). Further, to reduce malfeasance, modern toll booths, including electronic passes, which ensure up front payment should be considered.

A cardinal element in such a bill would be an accountability mechanism to measure performance of projects, including financial reporting on the utilisation of funds appropriated. Parliament should have such oversight.

Priority allocations

The magnitude of the Master Plan, when developed, should not be a reason to be paralysed into inaction. Rather, when developed, and in order not be overwhelmed, it should be broken down into manageable allotments. In short, implementation should be prioritised just as Government's current road construction efforts include priorities like the development of the major arterial roads leading out of Accra and one strategic road in each region for which work is underway. Similarly, the Master Plan should also establish priorities for each year of implementation. Restructuring The effective implementation of a highway development bill, may necessitate the restructuring of the current governance system of that sector, if a coherent national transportation policy is to be successful. The necessary inter-linkages between all the transportation modes would need to be taken into account to ensure that our sea and airports feed into the rail and road networks as Government's multi-modal strategy suggest. And here let me aver that the Kumasi and Tamale airports need to be brought to international standards, particularly the Tamale airport, which because of its potential size could serve as a useful transit hub for airlines from the eastern corridors of North America to Asia and beyond. I am not well schooled to speak on this matter, but already, I notice that some changes are being carried out on Ghana Civil Aviation Authority. Also, other major players such as the Ghana Highway Authority, the Departments of Feeder Roads and Urban Roads, the National Road Safety Committee, the Ghana Railways Corporation, the Ports and Harbours Authority must be affected by any restructuring. The vision There are certainly operational challenges to be confronted in implementing such a bill, since it will be a major undertaking in road-building never before witnessed in Ghana. But, operationally this challenge should be embraced by all generation of GHANAIAN highway engineers, both young and old, to ensure its success. There will be financial challenges also, which would test the commitment of all Ghanaians.

But I am happy to envision the achievement of this challenge.

In concluding, let me state that the passage of a highway development bill may not be the ultimate or sole solution to Ghana's highway infrastructure problems. But if pursued diligently, the master plan for road development in Ghana, with targeted objectives for achievement each year, would positively impact on the Ghana economy beyond calculation, through the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction (including through use of domestic raw material); the rural areas it would open up; and general rippling effect of confidence it would generate, that after all “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.” More than any single action by the government since independence, this one would change the face of Ghana, literally.

In this regard, let me pay tribute to what appears to be a national consensus on the problems with the highway system and hope that any comprehensive solution to address them would also enjoy the support of all. By Harold Agyeman*, Antoa, A.R * The writer is a highway development enthusiast.