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06.12.2023 Article

Road Maintenance Vrs Road Construction – The Priority In Ghana

By Hubert Gati
Road Maintenance Vrs Road Construction – The Priority In Ghana
06.12.2023 LISTEN

The lack of road maintenance and the rainfalls have really exposed the deplorable state of our roads across the country, in the ‘years of roads’. So many questions and assumptions come to mind.

  1. In Ghana, it seems that the two main governing parties (in the 4th republic), and the ministry of roads and highways prefer to build new roads only, and no to repairs of existing roads. It is no more surprising to see existing roads left deliberately to get damaged, so bad so that they can only be reconstructed as new roads.
  2. Is it a case that we can easily secure loans for new roads constructions, but we cannot get the loan for road maintenance?
  3. Or is it that we view new roads or re-construction of roads as part of political achievements than the repairs of the roads? There seem also to be a new trend of both NPP & NDC governments to score political points for major achievements through the construction of flyovers (interchanges). So, is it the case that we ignore the maintenance of existing roads to ‘rot’ because our focus is on building a flyover, so that we can beat our chest that our party also built the flyover some?
  4. Could it also be assumed that ruling governments deliberately neglect the maintenance of roads constructed by the opposition ruling party, just to denigrate their ‘achievements’ even though it was the taxpayers’ money used? If Yes, could that confirm the assertion that new government would rather choose to build new roads for political achievements than to repair the existing roads?
  5. Could it be that road construction is seen to be the most valued development to convince electorates, such that road construction and road repairs are carried out and commissioned mostly in the year of elections? Watch out for the use of roads as one of the main factors on the campaign platforms in 2024.

Come to think about it, we seem to be going around in a 10-12 years circle with the reconstruction of the same roads. I mean, after 10-12yrs of the commission of an asphalt road, we may be planning or looking for loans to reconstruct the same road. Why?

Is it because it is the state’s money, and not your personal money so we can misuse it? If we should take stock of the monies/loans Ghana has received in this 4th republic era (since 1992) for roads construction alone, I bet that all existing asphalt roads should have been in good state if they were regularly maintained; and there would still be surplus money left to complete by now the dualization of the Accra-Kumasi highway, the eastern corridor road, and reconstruct the Accra Kumasi railway line, at least.

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Let us go to school here. Asphalt roads normally have 3 layers on top of the (red) laterite sub base – i.e., the surface layer, the binder and the base layers. The asphalt surface and binder layers are the primary and secondary protective layers of the road respectively. For instance, the surface prevents the damages of the road, caused by water penetration, heat, wear, etc. Thus, when the top layer (the surface) is worn/ damaged, it is critical to repair it quickly by just resurfacing the road, to prevent the damage to get to the binder and base layers. The early repairs of the surface layer restore the road to its originally constructed state, and it further extends the life of the road for more years - if it is regularly maintained.

The 2 main causes of early road damage are water and axle load weight from the truck. When the surface protective layer is worn/torn (as a result of probably a cut on the road by a road accident or excessive load on a portion of the road), the binder layer becomes exposed to water, tyre friction from the heavy vehicles, etc. If no repairs are carried out sooner, the binder layer gets weakened sooner for being soaked in water and from heavy axle load. This ‘unbinds’ that second layer, and now we have potholes. When no repairs in done at this stage either, and the wear start to affect the 3rd layer (the asphalt base), then we now have the 'manholes'. In other words, when the wear reaches the 3rd asphalt layer, then consider the road as ‘rotten’.

There are several examples of asphalted roads which were commissioned in less than 10 years, that are eventually damaged due to no maintenance. Who cares, no one is queried for it, because it is for the state? Per the international benchmark on a primary single carriageway asphalt road, a new road construction may cost an average of $1.5million per km, while the resurfacing of the top layer (early restoration of the road) would cost a maximum of just 10% of that cost of new construction. So why are we not repairing instead?

The 17 km Ofankor-Nsawam dual highway for instance, was completed in 2006 through a $28million Chinese facility. Due to little or no maintenance on the asphalt layers, the base layer got exposed and serious potholes developed on the road, thus the 2006 investment has been scraped-off for a new road construction in 2023, certainly at a higher cost, as part of the $342m contracted loan.

There are so many roads that are being left to ‘rot’ currently - like the Dawenya-Ada (Aflao bound road) and the Beposo-Takoradi road - , due to no maintenance, while the focus is on the flyovers that do not make economic sense at the moment. Analytically, the Nungua barrier intersection for instance, needed just traffic lights to control the transitory traffic there, not a flyover at this moment. And at Takoradi, the Agip PTC flyover under construction, won’t solve the go-slow into Takoradi or from the roundabout, because the roundabout was not the problem for the traffic, rather Pipe-Ano – Fijai stretch, which requires just an expansion of the road in the roundabout. However, these flyover projects are undertaken for the glory of it, regardless of the necessity or the capacity of the state to afford them. Immediately after the completion of the Ashaiman-Tema Hospital flyover till now, did the interchange solve the daily commotion at the Ashaiman market traffic light?

Doesn’t Ghana turn to save a lot of money for development of other sectors of the economy, if:

- we should change our mindset and the political-focus from road ‘construction’ to regular road ‘maintenance’?

- and if cost analysis be done on intended road projects to find the best and cost-efficient solutions, instead of undertaking projects for the political points scoring?

If you are reading this till now with the political lens, I suggest you take that lens off and you would see how deep we have sunk our developmental priorities in the ‘rotten manholes’. Let us continue to advocate for the fixing of our existing roads, before they begin the construction of another new road project.

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