•Condemn planned six months closure of Third Mainland Bridge
•Experts blame poor planning, coordination in repair works
Road traffic in Lagos has never been fun or funny. Lately, it just went haywire statewide, and much to the residents’ chagrin and agony.
With mid-year heavy rains pelting down and exposing the underbelly of one-too-many shoddy repairs and poor road network, free movements on many major roads are heavily restricted.
Buses, cars, cabs, and container trunks alike all have to pick a gully, among multiple, to ply at a time. A wrong choice readily spells doom, as cars breakdown or trucks tumble mid-road – both worsening already bad congestion.
The consequence is several man-hours lost in traffic. This week, intra-states’ travels that erstwhile took an average of 30 minutes now require over four hours! A conservative estimate has it that Lagos residents now spend an average of 40 hours in the traffic weekly.
Apparently unbothered about the plight of the road users, the Federal Ministry of Works shocked the entire state recently when it announced plans to shut down the ever-busy Third Mainland Bridge for six months of repairs.
The bridge is the major link between the mainland and Island and accounts for over 60,000 vehicles daily, especially in the absence of Eko Bridge that is also on lockdown for repairs. The development, according to stakeholders, will leave the Mainland and Island with only one access link – Carter Bridge – and attendant yet avoidable chaos because of alleged administrative poor planning, and low premium on Nigerian lives.
Playing a bad hand badly
Indeed, the infrastructure deficit in Lagos and many parts of the country is humongous. Lagos, the commercial capital, is especially worse with over 20 million people and a comparatively small land area. Although the State is home to about 10 per cent of the Nigerian population, its landmass is less than one per cent.
A 2017 study by UK-based Company, Zipjet, ranked the mega city as the third most stressful city in the world. According to a rating of 150 cities, Lagos only did better from the rear, than war-torn Baghdad in Iraq, and Kabul in Afghanistan.
The difference between the most stressful city like Lagos and the least stressful – Stuttgart, Luxembourg, Hanover and others – are factors including finance, transport, percentage of green spaces, and citizens’ well-being. On transport alone, it is a nightmare in Lagos.
The financial constraints notwithstanding, evidence abound that there is tardiness on the part of both the Federal and State government in managing the critical infrastructure. They have consistently played a bad hand badly.
There are multiple reconstruction works ongoing simultaneously and have almost taken forever. The Babatunde Fashola’s administration, the current Minister of Works and Housing, started the Lagos-Badagry Expressway reconstruction. But it had hardly gone half way, when the work was abandoned.
Also, the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway repair has continued endlessly. The road is worse-off at the Toll-Gate, Kola, Abule-Egba, Oshodi, Mushin, up to the Yaba ends. The Eko Bridge is currently closed. Eric Moore to Mile 2 is not better. Costain axis is restricted.
Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, from Tin Can to Ladipo to Oworonshoki costs motorists as much as nine hours of travel-time due to ongoing construction. Ikorodu road is also being rehabilitated but at a snail-pace. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is also uncompleted, and gets completely locked down at the slightest mishap, among others.
The worry for many residents is that the works on all these major arteries, although laudable, had begun before the COVID-19 lockdown. Therefore, the free period of complete restriction of movement nationwide was a missed opportunity for road rehabilitation.
A Lagos resident, Bimpe Oshifowora, said it all boiled down to value for human life and travel-time.
“I believe if the State Government, especially, had placed a proper premium on the lives of the residents, it would have given extra attention to some details. I don’t understand why contractors were not compelled to complete some of the road repairs during the lockdown.
“In fairness, there is always so much to do, and I noticed that they fixed some inner roads during the lockdown. But why not the major roads or alternatives to some of the construction sites when they know that the rains are coming?” Oshifowora queried.
Third Mainland Bridge for closure
As if all these are not enough, the Federal Government through its Controller of Works in Lagos, Olukayode Popoola, Monday, disclosed that consultations were ongoing for another round of repairs on the 11.8-kilometre facility.
Popoola said the work would start on the outward section of the infrastructure, as the Ministry had begun interfacing with relevant agencies for the free flow of traffic during the period. The bridge has undergone several face-lifts, integrity tests, and was last closed in August 2018, for a three-day maintenance check.
The diversion of traffic to Carter Bridge alternative route means that even motorists who ordinarily have no business going to the Island will be affected. Ikorodu Road, for instance, will be under serious pressure, as it is going to be the receiver-route for vehicles coming from Eko Bridge, Ijora-Olopa, and Western Avenue.
Special Adviser to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Works and Infrastructure, Aramide Adeyoye, said the State had commenced remediation works on the identified alternative routes to make it motorable for the public.
Frank Onwubuya, who lives in Isolo and works on the Island, said: “We expect to see Lagos crawl within this period. The alternative routes, which are already congested, are not in good motorable condition. More vehicles coming to join those routes will certainly create a driving experience that is better imagined than expressed.”
How not to treat a commercial nerve centre
However, reactions have begun to trail the development as stakeholders describe the closure as a huge punishment to the citizenry.
Although they argued that there was no better time to repair the infrastructure, yet they opined that it would be very tough for Lagos traffic and commuters. They added that to reduce the pain, the government must ensure effective traffic management by innovative routing and enforcement.
Prof. Callistus Ibe of the Department of Transport Management Technology, Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), said there is no time that infrastructure repairs would not cause hardship, but what is important is the benefits to the general public after the repairs.
Ibe said government should be encouraged to do periodic repairs of infrastructure, rather than wait for total breakdown before doing the repair, which is more expensive in the long run for both the government and the public
“No doubt, there will be increased costs in both money and time; we shall be better in the long run,” he added.
An expert on road safety issues, Patrick Adenusi, said there was no better time to fix the bridge if the defect holds a high threat to the motoring public.
However, Adenusi noted that the Eko Bridge, which is still under repair, needs to be looked into before the closure of the Third Mainland Bridge.
“One other road that could have also been used as a buffer would have been Carter Bridge, but when you descend the bridge between the end of the bridge and Leventis is not motorable, so for the next six months as predicted it will be a huge punishment on the citizenry. But we cannot undermine the safety of the bridge if the defect has gotten to a point that they must shut it down now.”
Adenusi who doubles as the Founder, Safety Beyond Borders, argued that it is cheaper to shut down the bridge than to have calamities, adding that one major reason that is compounding the traffic situation in Nigeria, is the road user attitude.
“If we have a good road user attitude even if they shut down Third Mainland Bridge and the Eko bridge, travel time would still be manageable. But we have a bunch of lawless, uncultured, not adhering to traffic rules motorists in the country, not just Lagos alone.
“We combine two lanes to multiple lanes, and it then makes it difficult to travel. If the motoring public will use the road the way it’s supposed to be used, then the effect won’t be as devastating as it would be.”
Adenusi continued: “Daily, about 250,000 vehicles are caught in avoidable traffic in Lagos. If each of the vehicles expends N1,000 on extra fuel above what should have been spent for the journey, which is N250 million wasted daily. In five days, that is N1.25 billion, and in a month, N5 billion. In 12 months, we are talking of about N60 billion on extra fuels without subsidy.
“The shutting down of the Third Mainland Bridge with our lawless driving culture will almost double the losses. Government needs to take a look at not only fixing the bridge but we need to fix the road users, very strong advocacy followed by strict enforcement. The disorderliness on our road is unimaginable, so we all need highway civilisation,” he added.
Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said one would have wished this was embarked upon from March, when the lockdown started and the weather was clement.
“I reached out to my friends in government to allow transportation infrastructure contractors to move to sites to take advantage of low traffic, unfortunately we missed the opportunity.
“As things stand now, we have no choice but to go ahead with the repairs. The stupid option is to continue using it until it collapses. Since that is unthinkable, there is no better time than now.”
Odewumi said the maintenance and repair require planning and manpower from traffic managers like LASTMA. It will also require an enlightenment and public awareness campaign.
“The contractor should also ensure timely completion while the government should make the necessary funds available right from the start to avoid unnecessary delays. Also, commuters must demonstrate discipline and forbearance so as not to worsen the pain.”