There has been a false impression created in the media and other public fora, over the last several years, that the national road network has been in steady decay and that very little or nothing is being done about it.
Even a cursory glance at what we have done and continue to do to have good roads in every part of the country reveals the contrary. The importance of a smooth, safe and, efficient, road network for any country or economy need not be emphasised.
It can be stated that until about two years ago, funding for the road sub-sector was not adequate and therefore interventions in situations where roads deteriorated were either not swift enough or comprehensive, leading to potholes and inconvenience, even danger, to travellers and other road users.
With increased funding and the establishment of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) in 2008 to directly take charge of the sub-sector, a lot of work has been accomplished and more is underway to rehabilitate or reconstruct roads on all the eight major corridors in our country.
Work on major corridors
In Corridor One (Kampala-Jinja –Malaba), for instance, Kampala-Mukono section was rehabilitated, the reconstruction of Jinja-Malaba was completed, while the contracts to rehabilitate Mukono-Jinja and reconstruct Bugiri-Malaba-Busia have been awarded.
The design to turn Kampala-Jinja road into a dual carriageway is ongoing. Travellers on Corridor Two (Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Katuna-Kisoro) will have noted that the reconstruction of Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara road is ongoing while the upgrading of Kabale-Kisoro-Bunagana road from gravel to tarmac is progressing very well.
The contracts for the rehabilitation of the road from Mbarara through Ntungamo to Kabale and finally to Katuna, on the border with Rwanda, have also been awarded.
The Ntungamo-Rukungiri road was upgraded from murram to tarmac, and the good news is that the tarmacking of Rukungiri-Ishasha, Ntungamo-Mirama Hills, Ishaka-Kagamba, Mbarara-Kikagate and Nyakahita-Ibanda-Kamwenge roads will start in January 2011.
Corridor Three (Busega-Mityana-Mubende-Fort Portal-Kasese-Mpondwe) has Mityana-Mubende-Fort Portal in very good condition, Fort Portal-Kasese-Mpondwe is fine, Busega-Mityana is under reconstruction and Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Lamia is now being upgraded to bitumen standard.
A closer look at Corridor Four (Kampala-Karuma-Nebbi-Arua-Oraba) shows that the Kampala-Kafu section has been rehabilitated, Karuma-Arua was completed long ago, Kafu-Masindi was upgraded to tarmac while the upgrading of the Vurra-Arua-Koboko-Oraba road will commence in early 2011.
Work on Corridor Five (Tororo-Mbale-Soroti-Lira-Gulu-Nimule) has seen the completion, on time, of the upgrading of the Soroti-Dokolo-Lira road that has made travel in northern Uganda and southern Sudan become easier.
The rehabilitation of Lira-Kamudini-Gulu is underway while the rehabilitation of Tororo-Mbale and Mbale-Soroti roads has started. The contracts to upgrade Gulu-Atiak-Nimule and Atiak-Moyo sections from gravel to tarmac will commence early 2011.
In Corridor Six (Mbale-Sironko-Moroto), Mbale-Sironko road is under rehabilitation while the contract for upgrading Moroto-Nakapiripirit from gravel to tarmac starts early 2011, followed closely by the upgrading of Nakapiripirit to Muyembe Corner.
There are also ready plans for Corridor Seven (Muyembe Corner-Kapchorwa-Suam) which will see the road from Muyembe Corner to Kapchorwa upgraded from murram to tarmac. The contract for upgrading Kapchorwa-Suam road will be awarded by February 2011.
Our efforts on Corridor Eight (Kampala-Busunju-Kiboga-Hoima-Kaisotonya) have seen Kampala-Busunju and Busunju-Hoima upgraded to tarmac, while the contract for upgrading Hoima-Kaisotonya will commence early 2011.
Recently, I asked UNRA to take at least ten journalists around the country to see for themselves the progress that we are making to improve our road network.
The journalists who went on that national road trip would now agree that our performance should not be judged on the poor state of Kampala city roads, 90% of which have been the responsibility of Kampala City Council.
Kampala City challenge
Of the 375 tarmac roads under KCC, only 75km, including the Northern By-pass, are the responsibility of the central government and are maintained by UNRA.
Whenever KCC has called upon my ministry to assist with the roads, we have always responded adequately like was the case in 2006 and in 2007, as the country prepared to host CHOGM.
Our proposal to continue maintaining the roads we worked on before CHOGM was rejected by KCC and my ministry handed back the roads in June 2008.
However, KCC this year signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with my ministry and UNRA on modalities for implementing a project for reducing dust and mud in Kampala city, which includes repairing of roads and walkways.
The MoU has significantly opened the way for my ministry and UNRA to improve the quality of Kampala roads for the benefit of the city’s roads users. With the passing of the Kampala Capital City Bill 2009, KCC roads will eventually be taken over by UNRA, hopefully in July 2011.
In order to improve the road network across the country, my ministry has also taken over 10,000km of district roads and handed them over to UNRA.
We have contracted over 100 local contractors to begin working on these roads with effect from January 2011. Government has also procured equipment for district road units. Each district will have a functioning road unit.
We have in the last three years carried out major administrative and financing reforms in the road sub-sector. These include the establishment of the Uganda national Roads Authority (UNRA) and the Uganda Road Fund (URF).
We are now making significant progress in improving our road network for the benefit of our country and countries in the region that use our roads.
We shall continue to rehabilitate, reconstruct and maintain our roads as per my ministry’s mandate and the resources availed us. It is acknowledged that while we have done much, more remains to be done to have the road network we aspire to.
We need the support of everyone to achieve this.
The author is Minister of Works and Transport and Member of Parliament, Kazo county.