By Jeff Lule
THE long-awaited Northern By-pass, meant to reduce traffic in the city, has finally opened, three years late.
The Uganda National Roads Authority removed the barricades yesterday. By mid-morning, traffic on the 21km-ring road, stretching from the Kampala suburbs of Bweyogerere to Busega, had picked up.
But motorcyclists and drivers using the bypass were skeptical about the safety of the route.
â€œThere are no road signs, night reflectors, humps or pedestrian crossings,â€ Ronald Bareeba, a boda boda cyclist in Kawaala, told The New Vision.
Another user, who identified himself as Mutebi, said the road was insecure at night because it had no street lights.
The traffic chief of Kira Division, John Mawa, said there was need to sensitise drivers of heavy trucks.
â€œWe need serious traffic regulations since the road still lacks many things required to guard against accidents. We are coming up with guidelines,â€ Mawa said.
Works on the bypass started in August 2004 and were supposed to be completed on November 30, 2006.
The road was financed by the European Union, while the Government paid the cost of land acquisition, compensation and taxes.
The project, however, ran into problems when the road was redesigned to include walkways and water outlets on the flyovers. The Italian contractor, Salini, used the changes to claim more money and time.
â€œThe case went to court,â€ transport minister John Nasasira told New Vision in July 2007. â€œEventually it was decided that a mediator should intervene. The Ministry of Finance called experts from the UK to assess the claim. The experts agreed that Salini be paid sh8.5b. But Salini was now using it as a reason for delays.â€
The contractor said the change in design and torrential rains caused the delays. But Nasasira blamed the use of sub-contractors who lacked capacity.
â€œThey sub-contracted Spencon for the bridges and Stirling for road works. The equipment and staff was not enough,â€ Nasasira said in the 2007 interview.
Disagreements over the quality of bitumen, a road-surfacing material, caused further delays.
The top layer of the asphalt was of low quality. Experts from the ministry argued that the road would not last the expected 15 years.
It is not clear if Salini rectified the problem. However, the contract sum went up from sh84b to sh118b, far above the sh8.5b approved by the UK experts.