Last year, the city was brought to a standstill by the construction ofBole Road(Africa Avenue), but the chaos caused by the Light Railway Project makes that seem like only a minor in convenience. Again it is businesses that suffer the most, with access to numerous buildings almost completely blocked. Although many business owners suggest that a phase by phase approach would be more sensible, the authorities favour a more rapid solution, reports ELLENI ARAYA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
The total revamp of Africa Avenue last year, though cause for many complaints and traffic congestions at the time of construction, is no comparison to the havoc caused by the transformation of the eight kilometer long East-West road from Megenagna in Bole District, to Tor Hailoch in Lideta District, into a demolition zone. One of the two routes chosen for the under-construction Addis Abeba Light Railway Project (LRT), major construction is being undertaken on the road, considered the main transport corridor of the capital.
Looking at the current scene of jagged rocks, rain-filled holes, dust and construction vehicles, it is hard to envision the grand plans the city has for this corridor, including outfitting it with four interchanges and two overpasses. These are meant to accommodate the additional space that will be demanded when the train service starts.
In a rush to finish construction so that the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) can start work on the LRT, most of the road has been dug out, restricting access of residents to any of the businesses along the thoroughfare.
From the malls, newly-established hotels and two Kaldi’s Coffee shops around Hayahulet Mazoria, to the electrical shops nearUraelChurch, Bambis Supermarket and the small translation and writing businesses inMexicoand Lideta, all have complained of a slowdown in business.GollagulTower- a 15-storey mixed use building rented out to shops and offices onHaile Gebreselassie Ave- is no different.
Though it is nothing compared to the initial scare when it was rumoured that a significant part of the building must be taken down to make way for the train, the tower has still become a casualty. This is because access to it is only available through the dirt road behind the building.
It is especially tough on those that rented space to open shops in the first three floors of the tower. One of these shops is a Ramsey Shoe branch. It is one of the three local shoe manufacturers and exporters that have branches in Gollagul, along with Anbessa andSheba. Usually the three shops are full of customers, especially since they introduced affordable and modern design shoes.
But when Fortune visited Ramsey on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, only a single customer was negotiating to buy shoes.
“Whereas 30-35 people used to visit our store daily now we only get around five,” Martha Tesfaye, a cashier at Ramsey, told Fortune. “This has been the case since the road was blocked in April.”
“Customers would rather go to our branches elsewhere than come here,” Martha stated.
Though Ramsey expects to tough out the business downturn, there are others in Gollagul who cannot afford to operate at a loss until construction is finished. Rather, they have chosen to vacate what previously was a prime location.
“A traditional clothes store above has closed down due to a business downturn,” Martha explained.
Aware of the problem, the management at Gollagul has made a discount in rent, initially of five percent and then later 15 pc.
“We understand the burdens our tenants have to bare and must do our part until it’s over,” a member of the building management team told Fortune on Tuesday. “But it would be good if alternative roads are fixed properly so that people could have alternative access.”
The Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA) and its head, the City Transport Bureau (AACTB), are in charge of traffic management and the preparation of detours.
Normally the Authority does not construct alternative roads before undertaking major construction projects like other countries, according to Sisay Workeneh, communication affairs work process leader at the AACRA.
“In rural areas it would be easy, but here there are right of way issues as most of the land is occupied by buildings,” he said. “The other option that we take is to designate already available roads as detours and put signs up, so that vehicles will know which roads are accessible.”
It is the Bureau that designates detours, puts up signs and determines the routes that should be closed off for construction. The city is not set up with a lot of alternative access roads so this is troublesome, according to Tilahun Mengistu, road traffic system study officer at the Bureau.
“However, we make sure we identify possible detours, assess the amount of traffic they can accommodate and set up signs that designate them as alternatives, before we give permission to close down a road for construction,” he told Fortune.
The AACTB also broadcasts traffic information on radio daily, alerting drivers to areas with heavy traffic, roads that are closed off and designated detours.
Some of the detours are not equipped to handle the amount of traffic that is diverted from the main corridor, however, and a lot of them are filled with potholes, drivers and businesses complain.
Even if a customer is loyal enough to use detours and come, they will not repeat it a second time because the traffic hassle turns them away, shop-owners Fortune talked to complained.
For others, it is the fact that construction has started on the full length of the road, instead of being handled phase by phase, which is perceived as the problem.
This is the view of Zena Maseresha, who runs a barbershop inside the Getahun Beshah building, another mixed-use building five minutes away from Gollagul, on the same street. For him, getting business from all over town is important.
“I pay a higher rent inside this mall than I would if I had rented a room by the side of the road, so networking to access customers is how I can afford to keep my business going,” he said.
Lately, however, even his most loyal customers, who would bring their friends and put in a good word for him to potential customers, have stopped coming to his shop.
Although there is asphalt road access to Getahun Beshah, on the south side of the building, customers are still unwilling to deal with the dust.
“Wedding season will come up soon, which is a good time for business, but no groom will come with the dust on the streets,” Zena laments. Though he used to have several wedding bookings a month, in September, at the start of the New Year, he only had one.
Moreover, most of his assistants arrive late due to a lack of transportation.
“We understand that the construction activity will benefit us in the long run,” he tells Fortune. “But the inconvenience should be as limited as possible.”
“They can keep a lane open when they undertake construction on the other side,”said Zena.” Now with everything started at once, there are many shop owners who are hard-pressed to make a profit and take care of their families.”
But, for the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA), conducting the project phase by phase is not an option. It has to move in quick and transform the road into a highway to accommodate pedestrians, cars and the new railway, without causing too much traffic.
The LRT will have two rail lines that run East to West, starting from Ayat Village down to Tor Hailoch, and a North to South line from Menelik Square in Piazza, Arada District, to Kaliti, Akaki-Kaliti District. While the LRT project has already started on the North-South line, which will be 16.9 km in length, it has not yet started work on the East-West line (17.35km).
This is because the existing corridor does not have enough space in the middle to set up pillars where the train can pass.
“Currently the only section of this corridor we can work on is the road leading to Ayat Village, which already has a large portion of the space in between,” a representative from the LRT project told Fortune.
The rest has been left for the AACRA to overhaul. This part of the corridor has served the city for the past 30 years and was up for renovation, according to a press release from the AACRA.
The Authority has broken down the corridor into five lots. The first lot starts from the Ministry of Mines (MoM), down throughMegenagnaBridgeand ends at Lem Hotel. An overpass will be constructed at Lem Hotel. The second lot from Lem Hotel to the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE) will have another overpass near Hayahulet Mazoria and is 1.6km long.
A longer road of 2.5km will make up the third lot, which starts from the MoWE and ends atMeskel Square. Near St Urael Church, where Ghana-Zewditu Street and Jomo Kenyatta-Haile Gebreselassie Ave, another interchange will be constructed. Two more interchanges atMexico Square(Lot 4) and Lideta (Lot5) make up the rest of the project, which starts fromMeskel Squareand ends at Coca-Mazoria, near Abinet. The total cost of the road project is 2.5 billionBr.
The AACRA has set extremely ambitious plans to finish construction of the majority of roads and all seven of the interchanges and overpasses by the end of this fiscal year.
“The aim is to finish as fast as possible,” Sisay told Fortune. “It is obvious that businesses will be affected, but it must be done.”
Another reason the project cannot be conducted phase by phase is because two separate contractors, Israeli Company Tihidar Earth Moving LTD and CRBC Addis, are handling the project. Tihidar was awarded the first two lots, from MoM to MoWE, whereas the rest is being handled by the CRBC. This company was recently applauded by city officials for completing a 60 million dollar revamping ofAfrica Avenue(Bole road) in a short time. Officials at the AACRA cite theAfrica Avenueconstruction as evidence that it is better to opt for faster construction time, than drag out the project by conducting it phase by phase.
“Businesses had complained whenBole Roadwas overhauled, but now they are reaping the benefits within a short time. It will be the same here as well,” Sisay told Fortune.
This was what the electric and toilet equipment shops across from Urael church onJomo Kenyatta Streetfelt in the beginning. Although they were told to demolish a large part of their shops to make way for the new road, they have still managed to stay put and re-establish their shops behind the original location, in order not to lose out on their prime location when construction is completed.
Now, however, they are not sure they can hold up under the pressure.
In one of the electrical shops Fortune visited, two sales ladies were discussing the business downturn and how they and their neighbours are faring.
“Abdi from across the street was saying last week that he has not made even a single sale over the past month,” one of them tells her younger colleague.
“For us, business is down by a significant amount,” the salesperson tells Fortune, but admits that since the lane on her side of the shop is still open, she fares better than her neighbours across the street.
Still in the long run, with family responsibilities, staying longer may not be tenable according to her.
For the city, however, the entire LRT project, which must be completed by the end of the GTP period and give service to nearly 65,000 passengers at a time in all four directions of the city, has a compelling public interest and must take precedence over the comfort of businesses.
To mitigate the negative effects of construction, Bambis Supermarket – one of the first upscale consumer goods retailers in the city – advertises in newspapers, alerting customers that they can use the narrow road connecting Jomo Kenyatta andGhanastreets where Hotel De Leopold is located, as a detour into their parking lot.
But only a few customers make use of this detour. The supermarket, which is normally crowded after work hours, barely had any customers when Fortune visited on Thursday, December 19, 2013.
Inside the parking lot there were 12 cars, out of which only four belonged to customers.
“The rest of them belonged to employees and the supermarket,” Poppy Charalamos Tsimas, daughter of the owner of Bambis, told Fortune. “Previously our cars would be parked elsewhere, because there was not enough room.”
The construction has decreased business by 60pc at Bambis, according to Panos Theodros, Bambis’ import manager.
“Even if there is a detour, no one wants to put up with the dust,” he tells Fortune.
Both he and Poppy understand that nothing much can be done. They are instead hoping that the government’s intent to complete the projects in a short time comes to fruition.
“We are hoping that construction will finish as soon as possible,” Poppy told Fortune.
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