Why the 21km dual lane highway could still need more time despite a June 2021 target for completion
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) managers are still grappling with the usual problems of road construction like land acquisition, stubborn contractors and bad weather but the unending construction of the Northern Bypass remains. The construction of the 21km dual lane highway skirting Kampala’s central business district kicked off in 2004, and although the road was opened to road users in 2009, it has never been completed.
Allen Kagina, the UNRA executive director on Feb.17 admitted to having unending questions on the completion date of the road during UNRA’s half year performance reporting.
The Bypass has cost €106m ($127m) according to Allan Ssempebwa, the UNRA communications manager but this could have gone up as a result of the delays.
UNRA is currently supervising works on the expansion of the Northern Bypass on many stretches of the famous route; around Naalya, Namungoona, the Kalerwe junction and others. Mota Engil, the Portuguese conglomerate is the project contractor.
UNRA Director for Roads and Bridges Development, Sam Muhoozi said the project will come to a conclusion this year.
“We expect to have completed by end of June,” Muhoozi said. According to the half year report, UNRA has been working on a combined 17.5km and as of December 2020, 82.5% had been covered.
Ssempebwa, the UNRA communications manager told The Independent “The old bypass could not handle the prevailing traffic. It needed to be re-designed and expanded.” UNRA officials always say that the Northern Bypass is in a “second phase” which leads to some of the continued works.
Ssempebwa said UNRA had to remove roundabouts and put interchanges at sections like Kisaasi-Ntinda and Namungoona.
“That is why there are so many extensions,” he said. Other additional works on the road include flyovers and upgrading of degraded sections.
The Kampala Northern Bypass Highway stretches from Bweyogerere to the east and to Busega in the north. Along its path, the two-lane highway glides through several suburbs of Kampala city, including Kireka, Naalya, Kisaasi, Bukoto, Kawaala, Namungoona and Busega, a development that has enhanced their faster growth.
However, UNRA has faced a lot of criticism for the unending construction on the Bypass- considered a signature road project. Many Ugandans have repeatedly asked how a road designed for just 21 km can be in its seventeenth year of construction.
Sam Mutabazi, the executive director of Uganda Road Sector Support Initiative, a transport advocacy non-profit, says UNRA has always had many excuses for the delays on the road but that the roads body seems to be now moving faster.
“The contractor Mota-Engil was not up to the task. They had no equipment at fast and mobilizing equipment can be a task when you just have one job in the country.”
Mutabazi says Mota-Engil had experience in other African countries but they were new to Uganda. “If you have a small job in the country, you cannot ship in all these tractors. Now they landed some contracts and have built confidence.”
Mota-Engil was the contractor for the 58km road that President Museveni commissioned in November 2020 during the presidential election campaign.
The company was also contracted for the reconstruction of the Lira-Kamdin Road in July 2018 although works have stalled as the contractor allegedly contravened the requirements of the World Bank for social safeguards management stipulated in road contract agreements.
Mutabazi says UNRA has now overcome the initial hurdles of the construction phase and must ensure it meets its new deadline.
“Initially, they had challenges of the old infrastructure such as removing pipes. There was also the issue of compensation but all that is done,” he said.