Guest Editorial by Rufus S. Berry II, MBA
It’s well established that roads and other infrastructural spending may take significantly long time to yield economic results. However, reliable and well-maintained roads can increase the productivity of the workforce by moving goods more efficiently. For example, it took approximately 8 to 10 hours to deliver goods from a farm in Nimba County to the Red-Light Market.
Now, with the construction of the Red-light/Ganta Highway, the same driver would take on average 3 to 4 hours to deliver the same goods. Employers would be extremely thrilled to know that reliable and well-maintained roads tend to have positive effects on our bodies and increase the number of hours available for work by shortening commute time.
Roads in the republic of Liberia have made and continue to make crucial contributions to the economic development and growth and bring important social benefits to the Liberian people. They are of vital importance in order to make a nation grow and develop. In addition, providing access to employment, social, health, and education services make a road network crucial in fighting against poverty. Roads open up more areas and stimulate economic and social development and, for those reasons, road infrastructure is the most important of all public assets.
The question remains: Now that it has been established that quality roads are essential for promoting quality growth in the economy, building wealth by investors and local farmers and improving the well-being of the workforces and families, why can’t those roads be properly and effectively maintained?
If insufficient maintenance is carried out, roads might need to be replaced or undergo major repairs after just a few years. When this happens, the deterioration will certainly result in significantly higher costs and that will certainly have a major financial impact on the economy and the Liberian people.
With this in mind, the importance of properly maintaining the road infrastructure was recognized by the Liberian government in the establishment of the National Road Fund.
However, much more remains to be done. The current deterioration of the newly constructed Japan Highway (formerly Somalia Drive) clearly validates the point that road maintenance needs are becoming more visible throughout the country. After a few bumps along the way, the National Road Fund has secured a more stable and predictable flow of funds for road maintenance but, unlike the vast majority of the Road Funds in Africa, NRF is still not autonomous and that has to be changed.
Now is the time to effectively and timely support the nation’s National Road Fund, because throughout our history, we have had maintenance problems and this can directly be attributed to the lack of proper or consistent funding. Overall, the importance of road maintenance cannot be overemphasized because of its enormous contribution to the nation’s regional integration and economic growth, social development, effective public administration and security.
Additionally, maintenance sustains the quality and safety of the road condition close to the original design, and thus minimizes the accident rate, poverty level, and even its reconstruction cost. However, delay in maintenance is tantamount to its reconstruction as it results in high direct and indirect costs.
Without regular maintenance, roads can rapidly fall into disrepair, preventing the realization of the longer-term socio-economic impacts of a good road. Studies have shown that countries that allocate a larger proportion of their road funds to maintenance have better quality road networks.
Considering Liberia’s history as African oldest independent nation, it’s regrettable to note that the majority of the roads in the road network are unpaved. According to the 2017 World Bank report, only 6% of the road network in the country is paved.
However, in 2022 and though still terribly unacceptable, the percentage of paved roads has increased to approximately 9%. There’s a saying that because you’re poor, doesn’t mean you should live in a dirty home. Therefore, the maintenance of the country’s unpaved roads (grading, gravelling, re-gravelling and spot improvement) is extremely critical to the improvement of the road condition mix in the country.
Bearing in mind the President has been in office for approximately five years, he has made road construction his top priority and it’s clearly evident when one travels throughout the country. T
o many Liberians residing in the Rehab Community, Clara Town, Doe Community, Logan Town, Johnsonville, Barnesville and Ganta, it will be difficult to question the President’s statement that more roads have been built, improved and upgraded than any other equivalent period under any government in the history of the nation.
The importance of properly constructed and maintained roads can’t be overemphasized. Prior to the construction of the Japan Highway, driving to work from the 72nd community to Clara Town — which is less than 8 miles, would be considered a commute with the average worker spending over two hours each way in a depressive traffic jam.
At times, it felt like you already had lived a whole day in the extreme Gardnersville traffic before your work ever started. Studies have shown that these kinds of commutes certainly have a negative effect on our bodies. Thanks to both the Sirleaf and Weah administrations for the construction of the Japan highway, where the commute time for the same distance has been reduced to less than 15 minutes, instead of the 2 plus hours of extreme traffic.
The hypothesis has long been established that poorly maintained roads will continue to constrain mobility, significantly raise vehicle operating costs, increase accident rates and their associated human and property costs, and aggravate isolation, poverty, poor health, and illiteracy throughout the country. Now is the time for the National Road Fund of Liberia to become an autonomous government agency. In doing so, NRF will be in line with the road funds in most African countries.
NRF has to be empowered to ensure effective, reliable, and timely maintenance of our roads because it offers access to businesses, health, employment and education, all of which stimulate the economy and social development of our beloved republic.