While there has been some progress in the development of the 100 000-km Trans-Africa highway, there are challenges hindering the growth of the integration the continent’s road network that will provide a critical platform for countries to compete in the global arena and promote economic growth.

This was highlighted at the AfricaRoads conference, held in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, last week, by Association of Southern African National Roads Agencies (Asanra) programmes officer Snowden M’madi, who stressed that this initiative was not only a necessary option for Africa, but a “viable” one.

The Trans-Africa highway will be made up of nine highways, passing through 41 cities in sub-Saharan Africa and connecting about 500-million people.

Some of the highway segments stretch from Cairo to Dakar, Tripoli to Windhoek, and Lagos to Mombasa, thus providing access to the sea for about 15 landlocked countries. It will also improve regional links.

To date, the 4 504-km highway between Algiers and Lagos has almost been completed, and the 4 496-km Trans-Sahelian highway, linking Dakar to Ndjamena is 80% completed.

Completing the Trans-Africa highway will require a large capital injection, including $20-billion for initial costs, each year $1-billion for maintenance, and $12-billion for administration, condition monitoring, and programmes to compensate abutting settlements for lost revenue as a result of barricades.

A total cost, including maintenance and overheads, of $47-billion over 15 years would yield about $250-billion in economic benefits, while generating 14-million person years of employment for Africa’s poor.

Ansanra notes that ensuring that all new roads and existing roads are adequately maintained is a challenge, and that any investment in road infrastructure cannot be undertaken in isolation, adding that this must fit into the framework of national road programmes that provide a balance between maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrades.

Also, making roads safer, is vital, as the high accident rate along the Southern African Development Community roads has adverse impacts on the economy consuming about 3% of the gross domestic product.

While the Trans-African Highway progresses, the quality of existing roads is deteriorating, with current data indicating that 80% of paved roads are only in a fair condition, and that 85% of rural feeder roads are in a poor condition.

An important sentiment shared by some of the delegates at the conference was the issue of peace and safety in Africa, most importantly, border control.

M’madi told Engineering News that besides the geographical position of some of the countries, where, for example, deserts may prove to be a technical challenge to building this road network and, thus, contribute to some of the missing links in the Trans-Africa Highway, one of the major threats to the construction of the highway are war-prone areas.

He added that the Trans-Africa Highway is recognised as a priority in the national highway planning of many countries, but that most African governments were in no position to provide the significant capital required for expenditure, maintenance and management, and thattraditionally international agencies have been major contributors.

M’madi tells Engineering News that the Trans-Africa Highway could be completed by 2015, however, there are many challenges that could hinder that vision.

“Road transport is an important ingredient for economic growth, and this will be achieved in Africa through the Trans-Africa Highway,” he concludes.