Tasked with bringing development, sanity on the roads
By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — A minibus taxi parks right in the middle of the highway, while another makes a U-turn in defiance of traffic regulations before speeding towards Thabong Circle to pick-up passengers.
Never mind the law or width of the road at this particular spot, this is no longer the Lekhalaneng public transport drop-off zone but a fully-fledged terminus.
And just next to the revving taxis and buses — and very close to the highway — fruit-and-vegetable vendors are ready for business, with what could happen –– should a vehicle lose control and veer off the road –– something the hawkers would rather not think about.
Because this area was never designated a bus stop due to its proximity to the busy highway and limited space, the transporters are forced to park on the road, much to the chagrin of fellow motorists.
Teboho Matla, a commuter omnibus driver, has been plying the Lithabaneng-Maseru City route for five years, picking and dropping passengers anywhere along the busy highway.
“I know stopping anywhere along the road can be such a pain for some motorists, but I am just providing a service. If passengers could wait at designated pick-up points, if such points are there at all along this road, I would not have any problem collecting them from those legal stops,” Matla on Monday told the Lesotho Times.
However, because of limited parking space along the road, Matla said the only way to pick and drop passengers was to stop on the highway.
“The problem is there isn’t enough space for us to make safe stops along the road. So in such a case, what can we do? Personally, I have to meet my daily target; that’s all I think of when I am on the road.”
Another driver, Matela Matela, said due to the “confusion” along the Borokoaneng road, his taxi has twice been hit from behind.
“On both occasions, I had stopped to pick-up some passengers. I could not park off the road because there were some vendors selling vegetables so close to the highway,” Matela said.
However, the Roads Directorate public relations manager, Nozesolo Mpopo, said this traffic madness characterised many parts of Maseru, not just the Main South 1 Route, which passes through Borokoaneng and Lekhalaneng.
Mpopo explained that while there is need to strengthen the enforcement of using drop-off and pick-up zones by public transporters, the major challenge was how to expand some of the busy roads in urban Maseru to minimise congestion.
She said the Directorate, which is a department in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, is guided on the interventions to implement on the various roads, through the Lesotho Road Management System.
“In the case of Maseru, expansion could be done on some busy roads but the challenge would come in areas where there are structures encroaching on the reserves, which is the space supposed to have been left undeveloped to cater for the expansion of various roads,” Mpopo said.
Nevertheless, Mpopo noted in response to the ever-increasing traffic in Maseru urban, her agency has since embarked on road rehabilitation designs that would see some of the roads upgraded to various levels.
She cited some of Maseru’s busiest roads that will be designed for rehabilitation this year to see how they can facilitate more vehicles.
Among the roads are Kingsway, Moshoeshoe, Thabong-Lakeside, Maseru Bridge Border Post-Main Traffic Circle and from the circle up to Ha-Matala.
“We are in the process of engaging consultants who will closely look at how best to improve these roads.
Basically, in some areas, we will improve junctions, bus bays and put another lane, like in the case of the Pioneer Road near Lancers Inn. Road expansion works in that area are currently underway while in others, it could be a matter of improving the existing ones.”
Mpopo said other works which started last year included the reconstruction of storm water drains near the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
Poor drainage, Mpopo said, is largely to blame for the extensive road damage in Maseru, resulting in the Directorate spending a lot of money every year on road maintenance countrywide.
“Ensuring the protection of the road-infrastructure is one of our priority areas considering the huge rehabilitation-costs and initiating new construction where roads would have been completely damaged.”
Mpopo further highlighted the fact that to strengthen the protection of some strategic parts of the road network in the Central Business District (CBD), the Directorate decided to prioritise the upgrading of an effective drainage system on Kingsway and Moshoeshoe Roads.
“Flooding in the Queen II area has been caused by several factors, which include the mountainous topography and also the recent developments in the upper area of the CBD rendering the existing drainage system ineffective.”
The construction of Mpilo Road and other developments in the upper area of the CBD, Mpopo added, also increased the run-off of rainwater into the low-lying areas of the CBD.
“We used to have wetlands that would naturally take care of the run-off. Unfortunately, some major developments were implemented on wetlands and others on areas that strategically used to help in the natural absorption of water. What this means is because water can no longer be absorbed naturally due to all the paving and buildings, it now runs down and floods the low-lying areas. These include the CBD, along the Convention Centre, Institute of Extra-Mural Studies (IEMS) and others.”
Despite these factors and others beyond the Directorate’s control, Mpopo said her department cannot simply “shrug-off” the responsibility to construct new roads, rehabilitate and maintain old ones and ensure the protection of such infrastructure.
“Roads are a critical infrastructure-development that opens massive economic development doors and seamless opportunities in both urban and rural areas.
“Many of the country’s roads have reached their 20-year-design lifespan and are in need of constant maintenance and rehabilitation,” Mpopo said.
Over the years, the Roads Directorate has invested billions of Maloti on ensuring there are paved, gravel and earth roads in the various parts of the country, which has not been an easy task, considering the country’s terrain, said Mpopo.
The costs involved, which sees the Directorate forking out about M12 million for each constructed kilometre of tarred road in the highlands and about M8 million for a similar distance in the lowlands, poses challenges in covering the area the Department would like developed each financial year, Mpopo added.
Currently, Lesotho has 1 526 kilomteres of paved roads, 3 037 kilometres of gravel, 1 170 kilometres earth and 132 kilometres of narrow tracks in the mountains.
“If resources permit, we would like to upgrade all roads to bitumen (tarred) but this is not possible. Our strategy is to upgrade in different ways, for example, where we have earth roads, we strive to upgrade to gravel and from gravel to tar. Our efforts also include prioritising the rehabilitation of all types of roads.”
Mpopo also said because of extreme weather patterns, the maintenance and rehabilitation of all roads would always be an ongoing process.
“Our climate, which sometimes brings us heavy rains, snow in winter particularly in the highlands and at times, incidences of extreme heat, also damages our infrastructure.”
Mpopo however, said pressure from various stakeholders keeps mounting on the Directorate to ensure the provision of tarred roads, particularly in areas where easy accessibility would stimulate the growth of sectors such as tourism and agriculture and also improve accessibility to services such as health.
Due to the poor condition of roads, the bulk of villagers in the highlands have resorted to walking, using horses and donkeys to access various services, challenges which Mpopo said help inform the Directorate’s programmes.
“We have areas targeted for footbridges to ease access to services in the rural areas. On the other hand, we also have areas targeted for major road-construction, mainly because of the economic factors associated with such areas. Most areas in the highlands are tourism-hubs and therefore, we are working on developing tourism corridors to make the attractions easily accessible.”
Mpopo further explained that her department expects several major roads whose construction started in 2011 to be complete by the end of next year.
Among the structures Mpopo was referring to were the 80.3 kilometres road from Roma to Ramabanta to Semonkong, 60.7 kilometres road from Semonkong to Sekake in Qacha’s Nek, 42 kilometres road from Mokhotlong to Sani Pass, the 70 kilometres road from Oxbow to Mapholaneng and Koma Koma Bridge in Thaba-Tseka.
The current major roads and bridges infrastructure development is valued at more than M2.489 billion. Other road upgrades to be done are the Leshoele to Mathokoane to Setene and Bene in Leribe. This area is an agricultural hub and the Directorate will upgrade 40 kilometres from gravel to bitumen (tarred). The 10 kilometres road from Alywal’s Kop to the Tele Bridge in Quthing will also be upgraded from gravel to bitumen while the 140 metres Bethel Bridge in Mohale’s Hoek will be newly constructed.
Roads under design are the Marakabei to Monontša in Butha-Buthe (57 kilometres), Mpiti to Sehlabathebe in Qacha’s Nek (91 kilometres), Mafeteng to Mt Moorosi, Mt Moorosi to Qhoali, Maqhaka to Hleoheng and Nyenye to Mapoteng to ‘Makhoroana in Leribe and Butha Buthe to Oxbow.