FOR all its controversies, is the Joshua Nkomo express highway, better known as Airport Road, a panacea to Harare’s traffic congestion? While the new road network will decongest the capital to an extent, who will be the major beneficiary of the multi-million dollar project –the residents, politicians or the company contracted to do the road?
Furthermore, why has Augur Investments – the company contracted by Harare City Council (HCC) and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister Ignatius Chombo’s department taken so long to complete the $69 million (without VAT) project? Why has the road project cost an “arm and a leg” compared to much longer roads done by other firms in the country?
Why has the road project, reportedly first designed in 1964, remained stagnant in spite of the millions of dollars that government say has paid to the hired companies for the highly prioritised highway which was given national status by Cabinet at the instigation of Chombo?
Was it even proper for HCC to barter trade this multimillion dollar project or was there something amiss with this project which has been dogged more by controversies than progress?
Precisely, residents are not amused by the failure by HCC and Augur Investments which was offered huge swaths of prime land in exchange of doing the project in addition to cash payments.
Ironically, the project was commissioned by the city, Local Government and Transport ministries and awarded national project status by the Finance ministry.
Augur was awarded the tender for the project after it formed a joint venture company – Sunshine Developments (Private) Ltd, with HCC. Council has a 30% stake while Augur holds 70%.
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When government recently cancelled the Augur-Airport Road deal for reported failure to complete the project during the agreed period, it raised eyebrows over whether money had exchanged hands within the corridors of power.
One of the issues raised for cancelling the deal was that it had become too costly for government given Zimplats had built a much longer and neater Ngezi highway –about three times less than the cost it was paying for the Harare project at $19 million.
But Augur investments chairperson Oleksandr Sheremet said: “We wish to advise that Augur Investments OU is committed to the completion of the Airport Highway and has the financial and technical ability to do so. We are working tirelessly with the City of Harare and Government to resolve these issues on which progress is being made. Augur Investments OU has always co-operated and been supportive of Government policy and decisions.”
The total cost, the company said, would be $28,1 million for the dual carriage way and slip roads and $35,7 million for the five flyover bridges, with $4,8 million for professional fees and provisional sums to cover items such as street lighting, bringing it to $68,6 million before VAT.
Augur also said Ngezi road’s cost of $19 million in 2001 did not count given the inflation.
This followed the recent cancellation of the deal after Chombo said government was concerned with the slow pace of the project hence the decision taken by government.
Ironically, residents have been awaiting the completion of the multi-million dollar project anxiously thinking it would mark the end of congestion on roads leading to Harare International Airport, becoming a lasting solution to commuters from the south eastern parts of the capital, Harare, such as Cranborne, Arcadia, Braeside and Hatfield who have endured traffic jams ever since.
Whatever it is — looking at the project overview, one has a feeling whoever was behind the dismal failure of the multi-million dollar project which is impressive on paper is public enemy number 1, as it could change the face of Harare as a world class megalopolis that the former Sunshine City is badly in need of.
According to the project overview, feeder roads leading into Airport Road would also get a facelift to international standards, but as it stands, the highway has remained ordinary six years on despite millions of dollars pumped into its construction.
Airport road was supposed to have a 10,7km of two-lane dual carriageway expressways from Enterprise Road to Harare International Airport, seven bridges and flyovers at intersections and across the railway marshalling yard, 10km of service roads in Arcadia, Braeside and Hatfield suburbs, cycle tracks and pedestrian paths from the capital city to Harare Drive.
“The Expressway starts at the southern end of Enterprise Road with a bridge across Robert Mugabe Road and a link to Seventh Street. The bridge structures continue over Market Street and the 19 tracks of the railway marshaling yard. The Mukuvisi River will be crossed with a three-span reinforced concrete box culvert,” the project overview read in part.
“The expressway continues over open ground and through the existing corridor between Braeside and Arcadia suburbs; there will be a flyover over Dieppe Road where access to the Airport Expressway will be provided. In the vicinity of the Barracks, the centre median will be widened to accommodate existing indigenous and exotic trees.
“The Expressway will travel under George Road, St Patrick’s Road and Harare Drive. The Airport bound carriageway will then be realigned to pass under a duplicated Independence Arch Monument. The expressway will terminate at the Airport entrance as two traffic circles which will be constructed to accommodate traffic to airport facilities and the Manyame Airbase.”
For everything that has been about the project, very little is on the positive, yet if the project had been carefully and transparently handled it had potential to boost the country’s image on the international stage — socially, economically and politically.
The project kick-started in 2008 and six years on, only a small portion has been completed. All that is playing out in the open is the blame game among the parties involved.
Zinara completing the project
Government took over the project recently and handed it over to the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (Zinara) blaming Augur investments and its partners for not meeting their end of the bargain.
Zinara chief executive Frank Chitukutuku said his company had been tasked to complete the project.
“Our mandate is to go in and look at what has been done and we start from there to do the works and complete the project. The project has actually been phased, the first phase is doing the road from the airport to Harare Central sorting office, so that’s what we will be concentrating on,” Chitukutuku said.
Although the nitty-gritties on why government decided to take over the project remain a mystery when they were the ones who upgraded it to national status,what remains even more puzzling is the glaring delay of the implementation and the big monies involved believed to be too much for such a move.
Project delay: Augur blames City Council
Augur investment’s Michael van Blerk, however, did not buy the government’s position that they had delayed completion of the project saying: “The Airport Road project has been delayed due to late performance aspects of both City of Harare and service providers such as Zesa who have not relocated services impeding on the construction corridor to date.”
Van Blerk, who is West Property managing director,added: “It should be noted that Augur has worked at financial risk on several occasions and has been out of pocket at times as it is at present, and notably so on the recently completed sections of the highway which were required for the UNWTO Conference of October 2013.
“The costing of the airport highway was independently adjudicated by local professional engineers who designed the road and flyover bridges to government and city requirements as well as approved by the City of Harare and full council. The local engineers confirmed that the proposed cost from Augur of $1,6 million per kilometre is well below the regional price of between $1,76 million and $3,95 million per kilometre as was the parameter at the time of contract. These costs were approved at Cabinet level which thereafter prescribed this a project of national status in 2009.”
On the Ngezi project, van Blerk, said : “This is a comparison founded out of ignorance. The Ngezi is a road with a chip and spray finish with three box culvert bridges and built to a much lower specification than the airport highway which is a national highway and has an asphalt finish, three box culvert bridges and five fly-overs with the longest one being elevated for 480m over 19 rail lines. The comparison between the two roads cannot be made.
“The Ngezi road cost at $19 million happened in 2001 when aggregates were $7/m3, diesel was 58 cents/litre and labour was $50/hour. If these are remarked to current prices the Ngezi road would today cost well in excess of $70 million. Both the Ngezi road and the airport highway were designed at least in part or totally by CPP, a Zimbabwean Engineering Group.”
Van Blerk added: “The airport road has been designed for a 20-year design life, the Ngezi road is failing already.In an urban area, a much higher standard of signposting, particularly informative signs is required than in a rural area. In an urban environment, operations are often constrained by the level of traffic on roads feeding the project eg hauling traffic along an existing urban road will be slower than along a rural road.”
Whatever is the reason for cancelling the Airport Road deal, some explanation is needed as Augur is set to construct the multi-billion dollar Mall of Zimbabwe on a wetland in the leafy Borrowdale suburb with the blessing of the government.