POOR road infrastructure is the bane of life not just for businesses, operators and farmers, but for all Papua New Guineans.
The cost of years of neglect was pointed out last year by Department of Works Secretary David Wereh, who saidwhile K1.5 billion is needed each year for maintenance, the backlog actually requires another K3 billion.
So, what’s actually happening to fix the problem?
The World Bank has approved K338 million in credit to rehabilitate hundreds of kilometres of roads in coastal provinces in Papua New Guinea.
The first road planned for upgrading with the new funds will be the 50km East Coast Road in Milne Bay between Alotau and East Cape Point, the most easterly point of the PNG mainland. Other priority roads will be identified during the course of the project.
Works have also commenced on the Hiritano Highway, a major economic lifeline for the region, which connects Gulf and Central Provinces.
Remote Kandep is set to be transformed into a major centre in the Highlands, with several infrastructure projects worth hundreds of millions of kina under way or being completed.
These projects include the K250 million Mendi–Kandep Road funded by the Asian Development Bank which, according to Works Minister Francis Awesa, is almost complete. Four locally-owned construction firms are employing more than 500 locals on this project.
The national government last week released K5 million (US$2 million) for rehabilitation work on the deteriorating Warasua-Kilau trunk road in the South Simbu.
This is the first phase of the 70km Warasua-Kiariwaisime road maintenance project.
For business, the Highlands Highway is seen as the most critical piece of infrastructure. A total of 1,400 km of roads in the Highlands are being improved at a total cost of K1.740 billion.
Approved in 2008, the project is about to enter its second phase, after the Asian Development Bank released a second tranche of a K 291 million loan.
The five-year K588 million Lae–Nadzab section reconstruction project is being carried out in two stages. The contractor is China Railways International, which has just set up a camp with 15 sea containers for workers about 20 kms from Lae.
The first 20 kms, from Lae to Yalu Bridge, will consist of a four-lane sealed highway, with the remaining 20 kms a two-lane sealed road, with kerbing, guttering and footpaths.
There are also seven separate projects underway at the moment by four contractors in the city of Lae itself. A total of 19 km of roads are being upgraded, with an estimated project time of two years.
In addition, there are a further estimated 40 km of road works yet to be put out to tender. Funding is not yet in place for these contracts and will most likely be allocated in the 2015/6 budgets.
The downside to roadworks
Roadworks are not without a downside, however, according to the President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Alan McLay.
“Lae is experiencing huge congestion problems as the contractors are all poor on communicating to the travelling public about which roads will be closed at what time,” he told Business Advantage PNG.
“Because four contractors are involved in separate contracts at the same time, and there is no coordination between them, closures can happen at any time without notice, which has caused congestion, frustration, accidents and near deaths.
“Residential roads have been used as bypass roads and the subsequent traffic has destroyed many of the residential roads, with associated dust problems, trucks getting bogged or ripping power lines out and television cables down. It has been a real cause of concern and distress.”
Construction of the country’s first flyover has already begun with a groundbreaking ceremony in January. The Kookaburra Street–Erima flyover will be the direct link from the administrative centre of Waigani to Jacksons International Airport.
New Zealand’s Hawkins Constructions’ Country Manager, Seth Pardoe saysit will take two years to complete.
It is part of the capital’s road development program, which will cost up to K800 million, according to City Manager Leslie Alu, who saysseven major projects in Port Moresby are underway.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry (POMCCI), David Conn, says gridlock is having a big impact on the city’s commerce. While some business owners are lamenting the disruption that will be caused by the work, he says they are looking forward to the long-term benefits.
“Some areas of the city have become terribly congested in the last couple of years and a trip that normally would have taken 10 minutes is taking half an hour.
“Some of the trips from just out of the city normally have taken 20 minutes now can take one and a half to two hours if you do it at the wrong time of the day.’
Broader planning issues
The Institute of National Affairs’ Paul Barker has suggested Port Moresby’s city planners should also incorporate specific bus lanes on key roads to help stop bottlenecks.
POMCCI’s David Conn agrees traffic management is about more than just building news roads.
“A major challenge for city planners should be urban planning around the vast areas of land the new ring roads will make accessible,” says Conn.
“Proper planning could be a tremendous boon for the city and open up the much-needed tracts we need for new low-to-middle-cost urban housing.
“If we don’t get our act together, we will see these arterial routes squeezed by unplanned settlements, making future development fractious and disjointed.
“Ironically, it may be the non-tax payer—the illegal settler—who will benefit in the long run, while the legitimate residents and businesses will suffer.”