Who is to blame for Kampala’s gaping potholes?

By Vision Reporter

By Chris Kiwawulo

A recent survey has indicated there is no single street in Kampala without a pothole.

And the innumerable potholes are largely responsible for the increasing number of accidents on the city roads.

The current rains have not made matters any better, and there is public outcry to have the roads repaired.

But who is to blame for the ever increasing number of potholes on Kampala roads?

Despite all the tragedies that the potholes cause, the responsible authority — Kampala City Council (KCC), appear to be doing almost nothing as the entire roads are ‘eaten’ away!

Charles Nyende, a city engineer, notes that the potholes are a result of poor drainage, heavy trucks, shoddy work and lack of consistent road maintenance.

KCC spokesperson Simon Muhumuza says all city roads are expired, and the city is in dire need of new roads.

The tarmac roads covering about 330km, date as far back as 1930s and 1950s, and require sh132 trillion to reconstruct. He says each kilometre could cost aboutt sh400m, though the cost may vary depending on the area covered — swampy, hilly or flatland.

Muhumuza says this is too expensive for KCC; it is only the central government that can fund such a venture.

“Our roads are like an old shirt. How many times can you patch up an old shirt and still expect to wear it comfortably? All the roads need to be reconstructed and not patched,” Muhumuza was recently quoted as saying.

But for now, the Government has a number of issues to tackle, such as the reconstruction of northern Uganda and hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) due next November. All these need colossal sums of money.

Where KCC has attempted to seal the potholes in the city, it has been with murram. Such murram, which is normally mixed with cement or lime and compressed, is washed away in a few days, especially when it rains.

And to do such shoddy work, Muhumuza says, KCC has spent sh500m on repairing potholes in the city this year. He adds that sh400m more would be spent on road repairs and maintenance, while sh400m will be spent on walkways in January 2007.

KCC acting town clerk, Ruth Kijjambu, says sh13m will be released weekly to seal potholes in the city centre. She says the KCC engineering department will carry out works on major roads such as Jinja Road, which are in a very bad state.

“We have decided to have a weekly monitoring of potholes to avoid their accumulation and enlargement,” Kijjambu recently said. She said KCC budgeted over sh2b to repair damaged roads this financial year.

KCC has between 30 – 50 pre-qualified construction companies, which, according to Kampala Central Division chairman, Godfrey Nyakaana, are evaluated and approved by the city contracts committee to repair city roads.

Besides, the public always blames corporate companies such as National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NW&SC), MTN, Umeme and Uganda Telecom for causing potholes when they dig up roads to lay pipes and cables.

However, the companies argue that they pay KCC-approved construction firms to do the cutting and resealing of the roads, and they have to prove to KCC that they have paid an approved company to reseal the area they intend to dig up.

“For us we pay for any road we intend to cut, but we are not experts in road construction,” asserts Dr William Muhairwe, the NW&SC executive director. Muhairwe says KCC supervises the work because the onus of ensuring that the road is properly reinstated is on them.

UMEME’s corporate communications manager, Robert Kisubi, says it is incumbent upon them to pay whichever company digs up the road to allow their underground cable installation.

Much as the companies endeavour to reseal the dug-up sections by paying, the resealing is not done properly. Most construction firms do shoddy work, a source in KCC notes.

Like Nyakaana, one wonders why the city contracts committee continues to employ sub-standard contractors.

Heavily loaded and wide-load trucks are also known to cause potholes on the city roads because of their weight. Nyakaana says such vehicles should use roads outside the city, not only to save the city roads of the excess weight but also to avert traffic jam.

That aside, the continuous flooding of city roads resulting from poor drainage has aggravated the pothole problem.

The current seasonal rains have washed away roads and some of the materials used for construction of the Northern By-pass, especially at Bwaise in Kawempe Division, causing a temporary halt on the construction of the sh80b 21-kilometre road. The rains are expected to end in January, a meteorology report reveals.

To counter the floods, Kawempe Division chairman, Nasser Takuba, says the World Bank has come to their rescue by pledging to finance the expansion of Lubigi water channel at a cost of sh15b. The amount includes compensation to the affected residents along the channel.

The channel will be widened from the current five metres to about 50 metres so that it can carry the increased volume of water and curb floods. Takuba says work will begin soon.

The most outstanding potholes are near the railway crossing on Old Port Bell Road, in Namuwongo, along Jinja Road, and near The New Vision offices on First Street, Industrial Area. These places have been scenes of accidents, especially involving fuel tankers.

The New Vision has learnt that several affected individuals have applied to KCC to seal the potholes, but very few have been granted authority.

Referring to the Local Government Act, Nyakaana explains that all public services, including roads, are controlled by the area local authority.

“Anyone who seeks to repair a road should seek permission from KCC and should pay any of the approved construction firms the way corporate firms usually do,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Kampala Mayor Nasser Sebaggala says negotiations are underway with the Chinese government to supply KCC with road construction equipment through a long-term loan. The equipment will cost $10m (about sh18bn).

Sebaggala says KCC expects $35m from the World Bank, part of which would be used on road repairs. He says the central government also promised to repair some of the roads in preparation for the Commonwealth meeting in November next year.

“If we succeed with the funding, we hope to solve the problem of potholea and improve on the traffic flow,” he says.

The fight against potholes has also been taken to the US. KCC has invited Salut Inc., a US-based road construction company, to repair potholes.

Sebaggala invited the US engineers, who will use Dallas Roadway Products (DRP) to address the problem.

Salut Inc’s Sam Gupta says, “We have assessed the problem and have the capacity to solve it. We have done test works on Luthuli Avenue in Bugolobi. KCC and the mayor appreciated.”

Gupta says they would begin resealing the potholes when KCC gives them a go-ahead. The mayor is still soliciting for funds. Gupta argues that DRP strengthens the soil and eliminates the need for lime, which is very expensive.

Who is to blame for Kampala’s gaping potholes?