New roads, old problems

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The Ethiopian road system has a close connection with Italians. Before the brief five year Italian occupation, from 1936 to 1941, Ethiopia had no modern roads. Vehicles were not known by the majority of Ethiopians.  Addis Ababa, with the history of 125 years, looked like a wider rural village with grass top houses, commonly called Gojo Bets at that time. Mules and horses were the major means of transportation available to the masses. Even Europeans working in diplomatic missions such as Italy, France, Great Britain, U.S.A. and Germany were using mules and horses to go from one place to another.

Documents confirm that rollers were bought to begin modern road construction at the time of Emperor Menilik II in 1893. The first modern road constructed in the country stretches from Addis Ababa to Alem Gena through Entoto. Both Alem Gena and Entoto served as seat of the governing elite of the time until Addis Ababa emerged as a capital city of the country 125 years ago.

In Addis Ababa, the construction of the first road stretches from Arat Kilo Menilik Palace to the British Embassy. After some roads were constructed, two cars were imported. That brought a sensation in Addis Ababa.

The then Fascist Italians began constructing roads after they controlled Ethiopia in 1936. At the time, it was not possible to transport their armed divisions from Maichew to Addis Ababa. Maichew is located 600Km to the North east of Addis Ababa on the way to Mekelle, the seat of Tigray Regional Government.

The gravel roads, the high ways of the time, from Asmara crossing Mekele and Dessie to Addis Ababa and from Addis Ababa to Wellega, Jimma, Elubabor and Harar were paved in the span of five years. These narrow roads are now changed into wide, in some cases two-lane modern high ways are covered with concrete asphalt.

In the five year occupation period under the rule of the Italians, significant roads were paved in Addis Ababa.  The car population dramatically increased. Hotels were expanded. But massive urban road construction in Addis Ababa began right after independence in 1941. Long and big bridges were also built.

In modern times Addis roads began to modernize and a ring  road that was not only the first of its kind for Addis but also the country under the administration of EPRDF was built. The conjunctions of roads constructed throughout Addis Ababa were unknown prior to the fall of the military Junta that ruled the country for almost two decades.

The construction of Gotera Interchange is a sensational undertaking to the city. Roads of 40 to 60 meters wide are now common in many parts of the city. The newly built Shegole Bridge which is 310 meters long is also awesome. It holds the highest record in Addis’ Ababa’s history of bridges.

There were a few 40 to 60 meter wide roads at the time of Emperor Hailesselasie I like the Winston Churchill Road that stretches from Piazza down to the Railway station, Bole Road and the like. Most of the asphalted roads constructed at that time were on average seven meters wide. Some more roads were added at the time of the Derg.

The Addis Ababa roads Authority Director General, Fikade Haile, said that close to 10 billion birr was  invested to construct the roads over the past 21 years. According to the city’s figure, the road coverage jumped to 13 percent from five percent 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, there were 1,503Km seven meter  wide roads. Now that figure has swollen to  3,731Km.

However, there are number of problems that have remain unresolved over the years despite the achievements. The first one is the problem related to the drainage system of the city. If one drives in any direction of the ring road this time around, one will sense the magnitude of the problem. Not only that, new roads which come to an end following the ring road portray the same problem.  It seems that the administration of Fikade Haile had not taken what has been observed at the city’s lone ring road.  Look for instance, the newly built road from St. Joseph School at Meskel square to the Gotera interchange; it symbolizes the age old problem of the city. It’s common to observe flooded asphalt leaving pedestrians with no option but to go through deep water. Besides, most of the roads being constructed seem to care more about cars than human beings. The sidewalks of most of the newly built roads are bumpy making movement for the disabled more difficult.

The second problem is strength. The newly built roads will need major maintenance in less than two years. Experts in the field suggest that a standard road doesn’t need major maintenance in five years.

The other unresolved problem is lack of horizontal coordination with other institutions such as Ethio telecom, EEPCo and AAWSA. Often one of the institutions will begin digging a newly constructed road the  next day to fix water, electricity or a telephone line. Nearly all of them failed to fix the road To the state that it was in before they began their projects.

The ring road has another problem of its own. One has to walk at least half a kilometer to get to an overpass. To turnaround or to get out of the ring road, one has to drive, on average, up to two kilometers. What an inconvenience!

The Addis Ababa Road Authority envisages improving the city road coverage to 20 percent of the city’s total land mass in the coming eight years. That is really commendable. But don’t forget that the city resident needs solutions to this age old problem. Learn from your past weaknesses.