The most industrialized nations such as The United States of America, Canada, The United Kingdom, France, etc have used toll roads to develop their transportation system. In the USA, for example, most of the interstate highways are toll roads. Roads in general are used to create wealth for the nation as well as they are very fundamental in the use of job creation. In South Africa, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, etc. have all used toll roads to improve or to build a stronger infrastructural system, and Sierra Leone is at the threshold of joining the world in this particular arena.
The Wellington – Masiaka road, which is a toll road, is currently under construction and is going through a lot of different shades of opinion. Very often, the advantages of having this road as a toll road is ignored. We have listened to people who have lived in the United States and paid tolls on their highways, yet they believe toll roads should be abolished in Sierra Leone. We have seen politicians politicizing this particular development, which at the end will benefit the country, not any specific political party, region, or tribe. The following are some of the benefits of this particular toll road:
i. Reduction in the travel time between Masiaka and Freetown. We should not forget that just a few months ago it will take commuters one / two hours at the peak of traffic to travel from Water to Freetown. The delay will exhibit itself in loss of useful production time of commutes, increasing fuel consumption, increase in pollution, etc.
ii. The number of reduction in the number of accidents (fatal and nonfatal). The number of accidents between Freetown Wellington Masiaka including fatal ones in the past were very high. At the end of the construction of this road, head on collisions will be nearly completely eliminated as well as so many other accidents that have occurred along this road.
iii. Freetown will be decongested as more people will tend to move along the road corridors looking at the fact that it will take by far less time to travel from those settlements along the road corridor than before. Such movements will be done in comfort.
iv. The economic life, easy access to medical facilities in Freetown, recreational journeys around the Peninsula from the Waterloo axis, and accessibility to other social facilities will improve, not only for those leaving along this particular road corridor but for those living in the provinces who will travel to Freetown for different purposes.
v. Vehicle operating cost which is basically the cost components in running a vehicle will reduce. This implies the amount of fuel consumption will come down, cost of spare parts will come down, the amount of money spent on mechanics will reduce, lifespan of tires will increase, and more trips will be generated by vehicles on this particular stretch than before.
vi. The burden of maintaining this road will be taken off from government and bond entirely by the contractors.
vii. Slight investigation into the existence of this road system has revealed that over 600 Sierra Leoneans have been employed and this figure will increase as construction of the full-length nears completion.
viii. Other benefits which may not be very visible to non-technical people involves the copious reliable traffic data that will be collected during the lifespan of this road.
ix. Some investigation further reviews that major road rehabilitation on this road will be carried out during the 25 years. Thus, the road will be handed over at the end of the 25th year in good condition which will be total benefit to the nation.
x. The toll road system provides aesthetic (beauty) pleasure to both foreign and local; which is a positive sign of development in the country.
In terms of the cost of the toll, comparison of cost between Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ghana, for instance, will clearly reveal that the cost in Sierra Leone is about half of the cost in both Senegal and Ghana. Certainly, the cost of toll in the US is five times more than the cost of toll in Sierra Leone.
We have previously listened to arguments that the cost of basic commodities will increase as a result of this toll road. I believe such fear could be militated by total involvements in the Sierra Leone Motor Driver’s Union and the Ministry of Transport to arrive at a more reasonable standardized price rather than leaving the commuters at the mercy of drivers. There are other set of critique, who focus on lack of alternative roads. In the present generation, alternative roads to toll roads are not a mandatory condition for the establishment of the infrastructure of the toll roads. Rather, it should in this case serve as a challenge to look at councils and the road authority to look at the improvement of community roads along this road corridor.
Government as a matter of fact, should be looking at other roads in the country which could easily be constructed under a built, operate and transfer (BOT Concept). One such a candidate could be the road from Cline Town, along the coast, to open up at Murray Town Junction. This sort of project will help tremendously in reducing the traffic congestion as well as serving as a tourist attraction. It is my belief that government should look forward to this sort of agenda and should continue sensitizing the citizens of the country rather than halting the development of the country. As a way of monitoring the Wellington – Masiaka road, a Project Implementation Unit (PIU) should be put together incorporating the Sierra Leone Roads Authority, the Ministry of Finance, Motor Drivers Union, Civil Society Organisations, and the Ministry of Works.
We should show the world that we are ready for the involvement of the private sector to invest in our country. This particular road is a typical example. We should accept the realities as a nation rather than the blame game which destroys development. There is benefit to members of all political parties and the entire citizenry of this country.
Koivana Dumbuya, a concern citizen