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Uganda’s deadly highways

Poor road design leading cause of fatalities

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Whenever there is a fatal accident on any of Uganda’s highways, traffic police almost always blames “human error.”

Uganda is a landlocked country and available statistics show that every year, 97% of goods and almost 100% of passengers are transported on Ugandan roads but the lack of safety claims tens of thousands of lives every year.

Dr. Godfrey Mwesige, a traffic engineering and road safety expert who also lectures in the Department of Construction Economics and Management at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology says many of the accidents could actually be attributed to poor road design.

Mwesige was on Dec. 6 in Kampala  presenting a World Bank Global Road Safety Facility-funded road inspection report for the North Eastern Road Corridor—a 340km stretch that starts on the Uganda-Kenya border at Malaba in eastern Uganda, and meanders northeastwards through Tororo, Mbale, Soroti, Lira up to Kamdini Corner.

Mwesige led the team that inspected the road between March and June this year to assess safety concerns based on specific features along the highway. The findings are meant to inform the scope and scale of the World Bank-funded rehabilitation project that is scheduled to start next year.

Don’t drive at night

Using data collected on accidents along this road corridor, Mwesige found a high frequency of accidents involving motorcycles at or close to trading centres, especially on the Tororo-Mbale-Soroti sections. These have significant volumes of motorcycles during day in comparison to motor vehicles.

 “If you are not familiar with this road, don’t drive (especially) at night and if you know it, drive at 50km/hr,” Mwesige said.

Mwesige said his team had identified 98 black spots, 28 of them in trading centres along the corridor, meaning that for a stretch of 340km, there is a black spot for every 3.5km. A black spot along a road is where at least three accidents have occurred.

One such area is at Busiu, where there is a 1.5km steep descent as one approaches River Manafwa and a bend that many drivers at night fail to negotiate, leading to  He says although the recommended speed limit is 80km/hr at the spot, drivers most times drive at 110km/hr.

For this section, Mwesige recommended installation of guard rails and breaking the road in two using an island. In other sections, he recommends improving signage and shortening the tangent of some sections of the road, particularly at Awoja and Aber on the section between Mbale and Soroti.  Some sections need roundabouts and others speed bumps. Railway crossings also need special attention.

“Near the junction to Butaleja District is an overtaking section but there is a petrol station.  It is also a built up area but drivers do speeds of 97-105km/hr and whoever is knocked here dies instantly.”

In some sections like the one between Lira and Kamdini, Mwesige found the road “eaten up” thanks to an unusually higher water table. He said this section requires an extensive hydraulic modelling.

“The engineers need to raise the vertical alignment to go above the flood levels,” he said. In some sections, he found that temperatures can rise above 60°C meaning that if road constructors use lighter bitumen, the road would keep “bleeding” making it hard for drivers to stop when they want to.

Mwesige said the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) urgently needs to partner with the Uganda traffic police to develop a proper system of safety appraisal design and maintenance of the highway.

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