Feature: Accra-Tema Motorway: A Reflection of Failed Policies


The Accra-Tema Motorway is fast deteriorating, becoming a death trap, with high traffic growth and encroachment of right-of-way, and unless serious efforts are made by the Government to save this vital national asset, traffic build-up and inconveniences to commuters will soon dwarf what exists on other heavily trafficked streets in Accra.

Poor land-use development, excessive axle loading, and substandard maintenance practices are pushing the motorway into an irreversible destructive spiral, posing major threats to productivity and national security.

Ghana built its first and only motorway linking Tema and Accra in 1964 as part of the country’s program of transforming Tema into an industrial hub of the newly-independent nation. Among the features of the motorway was a dual carriageway with a median or a central reservation area that completely separated the two carriageways. Like all motorways, the Accra-Tema motorway was designed prohibiting pedestrian movement, parking areas or U-turns. Moreover, until recently, no road joined the motorway at any other section except the entry and exit points.

At 45 years old, the 19km Motorway is the oldest paved road in Ghana. Being a concrete pavement, it is more expensive to construct than asphalt or other bituminous surface roads, but it is more economical to operate over the long term. It is longer lasting, stronger, and requires minimal maintenance. There are several concrete pavements in Europe and North America that are almost 100 years old and the Accra Tema road could have easily attained this status if it had been managed well. Unfortunately, it appears to be in its last days with its elegant and shiny concrete pavement already fading out.

It is showing defects and the condition of the pavement is worsening by the day. Critical observation shows it is rapidly deteriorating as sealant, steel reinforcement damage and cracks are plainly visible.

The 300 metre (900 feet) wide right-of-way was largely preserved until the late 1990s when development started on the northern end and in the 2000s when the southern strip was re-zoned by the Town and Country Planning Department and sold off by the Lands Commission, while the Ministry and the Ghana Highway Authority appeared unconcerned. New residential areas further north include parts of East Legon, Adjiringano, Trasacco Valley and the Borteiman Estates which are still under development. Developments on the southern end include factories, bonded warehouses, shopping malls, and residential estates.

The absence of road markings delineating overtaking from steady lanes often confounds users unfamiliar with the motorway. The outer lanes are generally intended for normal steady driving, while the inner lanes those closer to the median are intended for overtaking. This is different from some countries in Europe and North America where the outer lane is used for overtaking. The bituminous shoulders, intended for maintenance and emergency use, are converted to a third lane whenever traffic builds up. The shoulders wearing course reels, permitting water seepage, and underscoring the speedy deterioration of the pavement borders.

The economic importance of the motorway cannot be over emphasized as it is the main route for transporting goods to the Tema Harbour, and also passengers and goods to the Volta and Northern Regions from Accra, and countries east of Ghana. It is part of the Trans-West Africa highway network project that ECOWAS member countries are undertaking from Senegal to Nigeria. The Motorway also carries traffic from Accra to Tema (Communities 21, 22, 25) and settlements and communities in Sakumono and Teshie-Nungua.

Environmental management and traffic growth

The motorway is fast losing its environmental attractions and driving quality. The broad view, breathtaking landscape coupled with the serene atmosphere and constant uninterrupted swirling fresh air, used to make plying the motorway a delight. However, these conditions are steadily vanishing as trees and vegetative cover are gradually giving way to brick and mortar, real estate and industrial establishments.

In the dry season, the shrubs and grasses within the median are burnt by those supposed to keep them neat and tidy resulting in brush fires and smoke causing low visibility and environmental hazards to commuters.

Traffic along the Accra-Tema Motorway has grown significantly since the completion of the Ashaiman interchange five years ago, and also due to the use of unapproved access routes at the Sakumono Abattoir area. As a result of rapid urbanization of settlements along the Spintex road, motorists that previously used the Spintex road to and from Accra have diverted their course through the motorway.

A traffic study carried out by Soman Consult for the Ministry of Roads and Highways in 2007 revealed that the total average annual daily traffic (AADT) on the Motorway for both ends was 23,211. It is estimated that while the average national vehicular traffic growth is 15 percent, growth on the motorway corridor is more than 20 percent per annum. At this rate, the total AADT by 2010 will be 45,000. This means an average of 45,000 vehicles will use the motorway each day by end of next year, with cars – 47 percent; four wheel-drives – 18 percent; light buses – 18 percent; and heavy buses and goods trucks – 15 percent.

In just five years, when portions of the former Nungua farm lands restored to the Nungua stool are fully developed, and the Tema Development Corporation completes development of Communities 23 and 24 at the northern end, pressure will increase for more access routes into the Motorway and traffic could build up for a few kilometres from Tetteh-Quarshie interchange. Vehicles could thus spend an average of at least one hour crossing the Motorway.

A Death trap

Beneath the veneer of suitability and comfort lies a feeling of deep displeasure by a section of users that the motorway is undoubtedly becoming a death trap. There has been steady growth in the number of accidents and casualties on the Motorway. Information available indicates that on the average two accidents occur on the motorway daily. The National Road Safety Commission reports that the Motorway recorded 16 fatal accidents within the first two months of 2009, claiming the lives of 18, and injuring 23.

A number of reasons account for the evolving high accident rate on the motorway, one of them being the emergence of passenger stops, about six so far. Drivers drop off passengers on the Motorway and in like manner, passengers converge at various spots along the motorway for transport. Prominent parking areas include the stretch adjoining the Action Chapel, Printex factory and the Ashaiman underpass.

It is on record that accidents have occurred at the drop-off points because drivers, prompted by passengers, suddenly swerve to the outer lane to stop only to cross an oncoming vehicle. Drivers have also misjudged the speed of approaching traffic on the outer lanes. Other causes include low visibility due to poor lighting. There are also complaints by passengers awaiting vehicles, especially in the night, of criminal activities like rape and robbery.

More encroachment

Encroachment on the motorway is an ongoing activity. Buildings and warehouses are springing up rapidly, as if it is a race. Currently, there is a huge ground water tank positioned next to the pavement that will clearly impede future expansion of the motorway. The water tank serves the Accra Mall. Next to this is the show room for a reputable real estate company.

The earlier encroachment on the motorway is stopped, the better. The loss of productivity, the waste of fuel, threats to health, crime and similar costs to the nation would otherwise be colossal. It would be easier to address the problem now than later. The expense and challenge involved in rectifying the problem swells for each day that no action is taken.

It appears Ghanaian leaders and technocrats have learned nothing from the problems Spintex road has caused commuters. This writer advised the authorities about the imminent crisis on the Spintex road as far back as 1997 but nothing was done. Consider that the Government is saddled with paying millions of cedis as compensation for people affected by the expansion of the Motorway extension work N1, financed by the MIDA, an expense that could have been avoided if state institutions had preserved the right of way from encroachment.

The absence of an adequate land-use plan is identified as one of the factors fuelling the rapid encroachment on the Motorway. At this rate, without firm government intervention traffic will become unbearable in the not too distant future, accidents will increase, the motorway will be downgraded to a dual carriageway, and traffic lights and parking lots will have to be introduced. The Motorway will cease to be an express way linking Accra and Tema, and virtually become a street running through several townships and residential settlements.

Financing road maintenance and better management

One major constraint affecting the maintenance of the motorway is inadequate financial resources. Currently, average net revenue paid to the Road Fund is a paltry GHï¾¢62,000 per month, projected to be GHï¾¢750,000 per annum. The operator spends an equivalent amount for recurrent expenditure and operating expenses. Revenues from tolls have increased slightly since the new operator started work about four months ago.

The current toll rates, unchanged since 1998, are out of touch with economic reality and thus funds obtained are grossly inadequate to maintain the motorway. A gradual increase from 5 to 50 pesewas for cars and similar adjustments made for other vehicle types could have generated $60 million over the last 10 years.

A global road toll study conducted by the World Bank ascertained that toll rates in Ghana are currently about one twentieth of what exists in similar low income countries. It is important car rates are increased to 30 Ghana pesewas from 2010, then 50 pesewas from 2011, and GHï¾¢1 from 2012. Should this happen, and further revenue leakages blocked, and current traffic growth are maintained, cumulative receipts for the next 11 years up to 2020 will exceed US$150 million. This is adequate to finance the construction of parallel service roads, asphalt overlay, and interchanges to enhance traffic flow.

Other issues to be addressed include the management of the tolling facilities by operators whose only responsibility is to collect tolls while road maintenance and management remains the responsibility of Ghana Highway Authority (GHA). Similar to the practice in developed countries, it is important that GHA recruits highway management services firms that will not only collect tolls but also undertake technical work on the entire carriageway.

There is an urgent need to institute a body to regulate all toll roads in Ghana. The Ministrys responsibility must be handed over to a body, established by an act of Parliament, mandated to act as a separate National Road Toll Authority not only for the Motorway but also all other roads in Ghana. This will ensure that politicians are taken out of the decision making process in determining the level of rates.

The thinking underpinning management of the motorway must move away from treating it as a social service managed by a bureaucracy and funded by the tax payer, towards a more commercial approach which imposes a form of surrogate market discipline or competition, much like other utilities.

Enforcing Executive Instrument on the Motorway

In March 1973, an Executive Instrument was passed declaring the Accra – Tema Motorway as a legal entity with prescribed tolls for various categories of vehicles (EI 46 of 1973). The EI, which was not enforced, must be revised in the light of present developments, not limiting it to the carriageway, but including the Ashaiman interchange and the entire right-of-way. This is necessary because state institutions are unable to protect the Motorway. In 2004, residents of East Legon brought a legal action and won the case against the Town and Country Planning Department for re-zoning and allocating parts of the motorway to developers.

Future development

Given the rapid traffic growth on the motorway, many factories have encroached on the right-of-way and opened up access routes directly onto the pavement. It is important that design features and tolling systems should take into account the peculiar needs and constraints of the industries to create access to their work places. If reasonable and convenient alternative routes are not available, there is likely to be agitation by users. There is the need therefore to construct frontage roads running parallel to the Motorway that will provide access to homes and businesses that have been cut off.

A gradual increase in road tolls will yield adequate funds to finance asphalt overlay over the concrete road, provide bright street lights, finance expansion of the existing two lanes to three in either direction, provide frontage/service roads running parallel to the motorway, and finance the construction of two more interchanges, one at the Abattoir and the other at Trasacco Valley. The Ministry of Roads and Highways and the GHA must lead towards the preparation of an investment plan and better management models.

The new Lands Commission and national security have shown strong commitment to preserve the motorway by advertising for the removal of properties that fall within 50 meters (150 feet) from the center line. The Government must be highly commended for this action. Unfortunately, 150 feet is not adequate to support future expansion and must be increased to 250 feet. Nevertheless, Ghanaians must throw their weight behind the efforts of the authorities to improve conditions along the corridor.

If we do not solve this problem today, we shall be creating bigger problems for ourselves in the near future. It would cost about $300 million to construct a similar road, considering its features and embankments. As a developing country, we have the benefit of learning from other people and countries to solve our problems. The downgrading of the motorway to a dual carriageway is imminent, but Government must lead the way in avoiding further crisis on the corridor.

Credit: Charles Kwame Boakye
Institute for Infrastructure Development, Accra
[email protected]