For those whose livelihood and existence are inextricably tied to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, commuting in recent times has become a nightmarish experience. The gridlock being encountered daily on the road has made it very difficult for appointments to be kept, while those who leave their business premises for home during the day sometimes do not reach there until in the early hours of the following day. No matter how early motorists set out on their journey, it is almost unlikely that they would arrive at their destinations on time. Yesterday’s situation was not different.
The Lagos/Ibadan Expressway reconstruction has taken too long a time. It is indeed mortifying that the government can allow things to deteriorate to this level. If traffic on the most economically viable artery in Nigeria’s road system can be allowed to lapse into this miserable state, it is evidence of the lack of seriousness in boosting economic growth. With the business community continuously harping on the need to improve the ease of doing business rating in the country, the impact of the frequent gridlock on the economy is indescribable.
Aside from the man-hours being lost, perishable goods meant for export overstay on the road and perish – Lagos being the main gateway in and out of the country by sea. The same happens to imports meant for other parts of the country. Sick people cannot get to hospitals on time, especially in cases of emergency, while the stress of spending hours on end on the road continues to exact its toll on hapless commuters.
In truth, Nigerians have very poor driving habits and could partly get the stick for the perennial gridlock on the road. That is further compounded by the proliferation of poorly-maintained vehicles that easily break down intermittently, causing friction and outright mayhem on the road. But, above all, the poor attitude to road usage is aggravated by the seemingly never-ending reconstruction work that has been taking place on the road.
Since 2009, when the road reconstruction was contracted out in a failed concession deal, and later re-awarded, the completion date has continued to shift endlessly. By the time the Goodluck Jonathan government terminated the contract in 2012, the state of the road had gone from bad to worse, while the cost had spiked from N86.5 billion to N300 billion. Now in 2020, the first major reconstruction of the 127.6-kilometre road that was first opened to traffic in 1978 has not yet been completed.
Everywhere, traffic interruption by lane closures is unavoidable when road reconstruction or maintenance activities are undertaken. In the United States, construction firms determine the days of the week that have minimum daily user cost and work on such days. Special attention is also paid to lane widths, merging tapers, and work zone geometry to provide safe and efficient traffic operations. But it seems the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway reconstruction has been designed to cause maximum inconvenience to road users as can be confirmed by the experience of commuters in the past week. For three consecutive days, the road had been rendered impassable and it will be difficult to absolve Julius Berger, the contractors handling the Lagos-Sagamu Interchange section of the road, of blame.
To start with, the pace of work has been excessively slow and it appears the contractors care very little or nothing about what people are going through. There is also a significant lack of consideration for the high level of traffic on the road in the execution of the project. Barriers are erected haphazardly and in close proximity to one another.
For those dismayed at the appalling condition of things on the road, the end of the sloppiness is not yet in sight. The Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Adedamola Kuti, said last year that, after missing an earlier 2017 timeline, the project would eventually be completed in 2021/2022, a whole 13 years from the date of initial award of contract in 2009. While attributing the delay to the addition of new features that were not part of the original design, he said that only 40 per cent of work had been carried out as of September 2019. From the way things are going, it is likely that by the time the road is eventually completed, the parts that were earlier repaired may have started caving in once again.
In other parts of the world, when such an important road is being reconstructed, painstaking efforts are made, not only to provide alternative roads, but also to ease the inconveniences commuters might likely face. But, more importantly, the work is done with expedition, not in a lackadaisical manner as is being done here. In China, for instance, when the need arose to replace the Sanyuan Bridge in Beijing in 2015, it took the engineers just 43 hours to do so. Knowing the importance of the bridge, the contractors, with heavy equipment, picked apart the old bridge and replaced it with one that had already been prefabricated. That is being innovative with technology.
The same thing happened when they were faced with the urgency of having to confront the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan. The Chinese authorities built two hospitals in less than two weeks. One, a 1,000-bed hospital, was followed by another with provision for 1,600 beds. They had earlier done so in Beijing in 2003, when the Xiaotangshang Hospital was completed in six days to help cope with the SARS virus that had broken out then. Nobody says the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway should be completed in two weeks, but the pace of work can be hastened by ensuring that the full complements of the needed equipment are deployed and work goes on day and night.
Lagos, as the commercial nerve centre of the country, deserves special attention. Aside from playing host to 70 per cent of port activities, most of the taxes that are used to run the country come from Lagos. For instance, 55 per cent of the Value Added Tax generated comes from Lagos and the money is not kept by the state but is shared among all the states. Lagos is rated the fifth largest economy in Africa. So, it makes a lot of sense to provide the needed infrastructure in the state so that Lagos would continue to shoulder its responsibilities to the benefit of the nation.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, should get Julius Berger to come out with better strategies that can help reduce work zone congestion.