As city commuter Sara Tesfaye, 32, wait for a taxi on Roosevelt Street, dust was swirling about her. But she was still optimistic about the city’s streets.
“The roads have definitely been getting better,” she says. “There was a time when it seemed like the entire city was under construction. It made travelling in the rainy season a nightmare.”
Sara is one of the 2.5 million people in Addis Abeba who require public transportation every day. While the public transportation is still overburdened and crowded, the condition of the roads themselves has been of concern to many city residents.
The Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA) is in charge of keeping the city’s road system in tip-top condition. Addis’s current population of 3.4 million is expected to increase to 8 million by the year 2020, at a growth rate of 2.5pc a year, according to the Central Statistical Agency, making it one of the largest and fastest growing in Africa. However, only 63 pc of the population’s transportation demands have been fulfilled. Part of the reason has been the slow growth of the city’s road networks.
In a bid to solve the problem, AACRA had allocated 267 million Br for the 2016/17 fiscal year to upgrading and maintaining city roads.
“The roads are being repaired from the root of the problem,” explained an AACRA official. “For many years, roads would just be patched on the surface, and then immediately fall apart again.”
However, complaints of interrupted maintenance projects and construction projects, noise and inconvenience, both for drivers and pedestrians has followed the attempts to improve the quality of city roads.
Potholes and incomplete construction have been plaguing pedestrians and drivers alike for years, according to some city inhabitants. Recently, the annual African Union Conference brought those issues into relief for some drivers. While some roads were closed, drivers had to find alternative routes to and from their destinations. This meant that side streets and back streets were being used by more traffic than normal, causing jams and frustration.
“The streets that are being maintained are just the ones that dignitaries see,” says Zerihun Tessema. “They’re fixing the streets so that they don’t get embarrassed. Streets where normal people have to drive are just left as is.”
This is an attitude that seems to be prevalent in some of the Addis population, even though they do have some optimism for the project.
“The repairs are mostly in areas where rich people and diplomats drive,” says Dereje. “Other areas are left with their roads falling apart. It is just for show.”
It is not just big events that cause trouble on the city streets. The rainy season in Ethiopia lasts from about June to September. The rains usually cause heavy flooding on the streets due to inadequate drainage systems, potholes, and ongoing construction. The latest repairs, on the other hand, seem to be trying to address the issue.
Yared Melkamu is a driving instructor who works near the Yidnekachew Tessema Stadium. He has been working in the area for a long time and has seen the road in front of the Stadium being repaired and constructed multiple times.
“Before the road was repaired, the potholes would fill with water during the winter and make it hazardous for cars and pedestrians to pass,” he said.
The road has since been repaired and expanded, as has the road that leads into the Stadium’s parking area.
“Cars would swerve to the side to avoid bumps; pedestrians would walk in the street to avoid mud and puddles. It was extremely dangerous,” Yared added. “But now it’s much safer, even when it rains.”
Road maintenance has been one of AACRA’s main areas of priority this fiscal year. Addis Abeba’s road network increased to 5915km in 2016/17 from 5365km the previous fiscal year, increasing the city’s road coverage to 22.1pc from 20pc. Just last week, the Authority held a groundbreaking ceremony to begin the construction of a road from Qality to Qilinto which is one of the two most expensive road projects in the country.
On the other hand, the increase in road coverage has been disproportionate to the increase in vehicle ownership. The number of cars in the city reached 447,670 in 2015/16 – 33pc higher than the preceding fiscal year (the highest increase ever).
This means that while road coverage is increasing at 13pc every year, the number of cars is increasing by over 25 pc.
Although some residents have been upset about the state of the roads, some are feeling a little bit more optimistic. Some drivers and pedestrians in the city are finding that the AACRA efforts to upgrade the city’s roads and walkways are bearing fruit.
One example is the demolition of a roundabout near the Jemo area, which makes it safer and easier to drive through the area, according to some drivers.
“The roundabout was a cause for many accidents. After it was demolished, you hardly ever hear of accidents there anymore,” says Sisay, a driver in Addis Abeba. “It is one of the better ideas that AACRA has had.”
Tesfaye Fisseha, a bus driver around the Mexico area, agrees.
“People don’t have to avoid potholes and cracks anymore, so it’s easier to drive safely,” he says. “But there are still many areas that need improvement. Many times, the repair and the existing road are uneven.”
While the road networks have been increasing, the steadily climbing demand for transportation from the city’s population has also been putting pressure on the transport sector.
In a quarter of the city’s 139 terminals, people wait more than 15 minutes to get a public transport, according to a study by Addis Abeba Transport Authority. The demand for travel has doubled since the early 1990’s, in step with the population boom. Public transportation facilities, such as taxis and buses, which fight for space on the roads has also increased.
During the 2015/16 fiscal year, 4034 Code 1 & 4488 code 3 taxis, 376 Higer buses, 374 kitkit, 405 public buses, 603 Anbessa buses, 37 Sheger buses, 27 Alliance buses, and 22 trains served the population of Addis Ababa on a daily basis.
In spite of the increase in the number of public transportation vehicles, the population’s demand is increasing at an even bigger pace, making space on the roads even more of a commodity.
“The number of vehicles has increased, but the roads are still the same,” explains Sahle Abebe, a taxi driver. “The quality of the roads may be improving, but the space is getting very tight. Parking is even worse.”
Because there are no designated parking areas, cars park directly on the road, sometimes in rows of two, making a small space even narrower, according to Sahle.
“Some roads aren’t even repaired. They’re just patched,” he added. “Driving on an uneven road can be challenging.”
In spite of the issues that Addis residents have been facing while roads have been upgraded and repaired, the mood in the city seems to be one of optimism. AACRA’s new director, Habtamu Tegegn (Eng) has set an agenda of upgrading for the city, and it seems to be paying off. Now the next problem that will have to be dealt with is space to accommodate the city’s climbing population.
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