| The Accra-Tema Motorway is fast deteriorating,
becoming a death trap, with high traffic growth and encroachment of
right-of-way, and unless serious efforts are made by the Government
to save this vital national asset, traffic build-up and inconveniences
to commuters will soon dwarf what exists on other heavily trafficked
streets in Accra.
Poor land-use development, excessive axle loading, and substandard
maintenance practices are pushing the motorway into an irreversible
destructive spiral, posing major threats to productivity and national
Ghana built its first and only motorway linking Tema and Accra
in 1964 as part of the country’s program of transforming Tema
into an industrial hub of the newly-independent nation. Among the
features of the motorway was a dual carriageway with a median or
a central reservation area that completely separated the two carriageways.
Like all motorways, the Accra -Tema motorway was designed prohibiting
pedestrian movement, parking areas or U-turns. Moreover, until recently,
no road joined the motorway at any other section except the entry
and exit points.
At 45 years old, the 19km Motorway is the oldest paved road in
Ghana. Being a concrete pavement, it is more expensive to construct
than asphalt or other bituminous surface roads, but it is more economical
to operate over the long term. It is longer lasting, stronger, and
requires minimal maintenance. There are several concrete pavements
in Europe and North America that are almost 100 years old and the
Accra – Tema road could have easily attained this status if
it had been managed well. Unfortunately, it appears to be in its
last days with its elegant and shiny concrete pavement already fading
It is showing defects and the condition of the pavement is worsening
by the day. Critical observation shows it is rapidly deteriorating
as sealant, steel reinforcement damage and cracks are plainly visible.
The 300 metre (900 feet) wide right-of-way was largely preserved
until the late 1990’s when development started on the northern
end and in the 2000’s when the southern strip was re-zoned
by the Town and Country Planning Department and sold off by the
Lands Commission, while the Ministry and the Ghana Highway Authority
appeared unconcerned. New residential areas further north include
parts of East Legon, Adjiringano, Trasacco Valley and the Borteiman
Estates which are still under development. Developments on the southern
end include factories, bonded warehouses, shopping malls, and residential
The absence of road markings delineating overtaking from steady
lanes often confounds users unfamiliar with the motorway. The outer
lanes are generally intended for normal steady driving, while the
inner lanes—those closer to the median—are intended
for overtaking. This is different from some countries in Europe
and North America where the outer lane is used for overtaking. The
bituminous shoulders, intended for maintenance and emergency use,
are converted to a third lane whenever traffic builds up. The shoulders
wearing course reels, permitting water seepage, and underscoring
the speedy deterioration of the pavement borders.
The economic importance of the motorway cannot be over emphasized
as it is the main route for transporting goods to the Tema Harbour,
and also passengers and goods to the Volta and Northern Regions
from Accra, and countries east of Ghana. It is part of the Trans-West
Africa highway network project that ECOWAS member countries are
undertaking from Senegal to Nigeria. The Motorway also carries traffic
from Accra to Tema (Communities 21, 22, 25) and settlements and
communities in Sakumono and Teshie-Nungua.
Environmental management and traffic growth
The motorway is fast losing its environmental attractions and driving
quality. The broad view, breathtaking landscape coupled with the
serene atmosphere and constant uninterrupted swirling fresh air,
used to make plying the motorway a delight. However, these conditions
are steadily vanishing as trees and vegetative cover are gradually
giving way to brick and mortar, real estate and industrial establishments.
In the dry season, the shrubs and grasses within the median are
burnt by those supposed to keep them neat and tidy resulting in
brush fires and smoke causing low visibility and environmental hazards
Traffic along the Accra-Tema Motorway has grown significantly since
the completion of the Ashaiman interchange five years ago, and also
due to the use of unapproved access routes at the Sakumono Abattoir
area. As a result of rapid urbanization of settlements along the
Spintex road, motorists that previously used the Spintex road to
and from Accra have diverted their course through the motorway.
A traffic study carried out by Soman Consult for the Ministry of
Roads and Highways in 2007 revealed that the total average annual
daily traffic (AADT) on the Motorway for both ends was 23,211. It
is estimated that while the average national vehicular traffic growth
is 15 percent, growth on the motorway corridor is more than 20 percent
per annum. At this rate, the total AADT by 2010 will be 45,000.
This means an average of 45,000 vehicles will use the motorway each
day by end of next year, with cars - 47 percent; four wheel-drives
- 18 percent; light buses - 18 percent; and heavy buses and goods
trucks - 15 percent.
In just five years, when portions of the former Nungua farm lands
restored to the Nungua stool are fully developed, and the Tema Development
Corporation completes development of Communities 23 and 24 at the
northern end, pressure will increase for more access routes into
the Motorway and traffic could build up for a few kilometres from
Tetteh-Quarshie interchange. Vehicles could thus spend an average
of at least one hour crossing the Motorway.
A Death trap
Beneath the veneer of suitability and comfort lies a feeling of
deep displeasure by a section of users that the motorway is undoubtedly
becoming a death trap. There has been steady growth in the number
of accidents and casualties on the Motorway. Information available
indicates that on the average two accidents occur on the motorway
daily. The National Road Safety Commission reports that the Motorway
recorded 16 fatal accidents within the first two months of 2009,
claiming the lives of 18, and injuring 23.
A number of reasons account for the evolving high accident rate
on the motorway, one of them being the emergence of passenger stops,
about six so far. Drivers drop off passengers on the Motorway and
in like manner, passengers converge at various spots along the motorway
for transport. Prominent parking areas include the stretch adjoining
the Action Chapel, Printex factory and the Ashaiman underpass.
It is on record that accidents have occurred at the drop-off points
because drivers, prompted by passengers, suddenly swerve to the
outer lane to stop only to cross an oncoming vehicle. Drivers have
also misjudged the speed of approaching traffic on the outer lanes.
Other causes include low visibility due to poor lighting. There
are also complaints by passengers awaiting vehicles, especially
in the night, of criminal activities like rape and robbery.
Encroachment on the motorway is an ongoing activity. Buildings
and warehouses are springing up rapidly, as if it is a race. Currently,
there is a huge ground water tank positioned next to the pavement
that will clearly impede future expansion of the motorway. The water
tank serves the Accra Mall. Next to this is the show room for a
reputable real estate company.
The earlier encroachment on the motorway is stopped, the better.
The loss of productivity, the waste of fuel, threats to health,
crime and similar costs to the nation would otherwise be colossal.
It would be easier to address the problem now than later. The expense
and challenge involved in rectifying the problem swells for each
day that no action is taken.
It appears Ghanaian leaders and technocrats have learned nothing
from the problems Spintex road has caused commuters. This writer
advised the authorities about the imminent crisis on the Spintex
road as far back as 1997 but nothing was done. Consider that the
Government is saddled with paying millions of cedis as compensation
for people affected by the expansion of the Motorway extension work
– N1, financed by the MIDA, an expense that could have been
avoided if state institutions had preserved the right of way from
The absence of an adequate land-use plan is identified as one of
the factors fuelling the rapid encroachment on the Motorway. At
this rate, without firm government intervention traffic will become
unbearable in the not too distant future, accidents will increase,
the motorway will be downgraded to a dual carriageway, and traffic
lights and parking lots will have to be introduced. The Motorway
will cease to be an express way linking Accra and Tema, and virtually
become a street running through several townships and residential
Financing road maintenance and better management
One major constraint affecting the maintenance of the motorway
is inadequate financial resources. Currently, average net revenue
paid to the Road Fund is a paltry GH¢62,000 per month, projected
to be GH¢750,000 per annum. The operator spends an equivalent
amount for recurrent expenditure and operating expenses. Revenues
from tolls have increased slightly since the new operator started
work about four months ago.
The current toll rates, unchanged since 1998, are out of touch
with economic reality and thus funds obtained are grossly inadequate
to maintain the motorway. A gradual increase from 5 to 50 pesewas
for cars and similar adjustments made for other vehicle types could
have generated $60 million over the last 10 years.
A global road toll study conducted by the World Bank ascertained
that toll rates in Ghana are currently about one twentieth of what
exists in similar low income countries. It is important car rates
are increased to 30 Ghana pesewas from 2010, then 50 pesewas from
2011, and GH¢1 from 2012. Should this happen, and further revenue
leakages blocked, and current traffic growth are maintained, cumulative
receipts for the next 11 years — up to 2020 — will exceed
US$150 million. This is adequate to finance the construction of
parallel service roads, asphalt overlay, and interchanges to enhance
Other issues to be addressed include the management of the tolling
facilities by operators whose only responsibility is to collect
tolls while road maintenance and management remains the responsibility
of Ghana Highway Authority (GHA). Similar to the practice in developed
countries, it is important that GHA recruits highway management
services firms that will not only collect tolls but also undertake
technical work on the entire carriageway.
There is an urgent need to institute a body to regulate all toll
roads in Ghana. The Ministry’s responsibility must be handed
over to a body, established by an act of Parliament, mandated to
act as a separate National Road Toll Authority not only for the
Motorway but also all other roads in Ghana. This will ensure that
politicians are taken out of the decision making process in determining
the level of rates.
The thinking underpinning management of the motorway must move
away from treating it as a social service managed by a bureaucracy
and funded by the tax payer, towards a more commercial approach
which imposes a form of surrogate market discipline or competition,
much like other utilities.
Enforcing Executive Instrument on the Motorway
In March 1973, an Executive Instrument was passed declaring the
Accra - Tema Motorway as a legal entity with prescribed tolls for
various categories of vehicles (EI 46 of 1973). The EI, which was
not enforced, must be revised in the light of present developments,
not limiting it to the carriageway, but including the Ashaiman interchange
and the entire right-of-way. This is necessary because state institutions
are unable to protect the Motorway. In 2004, residents of East Legon
brought a legal action and won the case against the Town and Country
Planning Department for re-zoning and allocating parts of the motorway
Given the rapid traffic growth on the motorway, many factories
have encroached on the right-of-way and opened up access routes
directly onto the pavement. It is important that design features
and tolling systems should take into account the peculiar needs
and constraints of the industries to create access to their work
places. If reasonable and convenient alternative routes are not
available, there is likely to be agitation by users. There is the
need therefore to construct frontage roads running parallel to the
Motorway that will provide access to homes and businesses that have
been cut off.
A gradual increase in road tolls will yield adequate funds to finance
asphalt overlay over the concrete road, provide bright street lights,
finance expansion of the existing two lanes to three in either direction,
provide frontage/service roads running parallel to the motorway,
and finance the construction of two more interchanges, one at the
Abattoir and the other at Trasacco Valley. The Ministry of Roads
and Highways and the GHA must lead towards the preparation of an
investment plan and better management models.
The new Lands Commission and national security have shown strong
commitment to preserve the motorway by advertising for the removal
of properties that fall within 50 meters (150 feet) from the center
line. The Government must be highly commended for this action. Unfortunately,
150 feet is not adequate to support future expansion and must be
increased to 250 feet. Nevertheless, Ghanaians must throw their
weight behind the efforts of the authorities to improve conditions
along the corridor.
If we do not solve this problem today, we shall be creating bigger
problems for ourselves in the near future. It would cost about $300
million to construct a similar road, considering its features and
embankments. As a developing country, we have the benefit of learning
from other people and countries to solve our problems. The downgrading
of the motorway to a dual carriageway is imminent, but Government
must lead the way in avoiding further crisis on the corridor.
Credit : Charles Kwame Boakye
Institute for Infrastructure Development, Accra