Reform The Infrastructure, Reform The Roads — Ending Liberia’s Road Traffic Chaos

Tanker explosion in Totota, Liberia. Africa is the most dangerous continent in terms of road related accidents, and Liberia is the most dangerous within that, with 35.9 deaths per 100,000 people every single year.

Guest Editorial by Brianna Hilton

A late December road traffic accident near Totota, in which an oil tanker overturned and exploded, has seen over 70 lives lost. This tragic event, is unfortunately, not a one-off event, and has, according to BNN Breaking, exposed the road safety crisis at the heart of Liberia’s transportation sector. Africa is the most dangerous continent in terms of road related accidents, and Liberia is the most dangerous within that, with 35.9 deaths per 100,000 people every single year. Tackling this is crucial, and starts with a major overhaul of road infrastructure and safety measures.

Addressing road safety measures

The very first step that planners need to take concerns the implementation of road safety measures. As highlighted by Reuters, inadequate road safety measures have fostered the conditions in which sub-Saharan Africa has become the most dangerous driving region of the world. This is partly due to infrastructure, but urgent changes to influence driver behaviour can make immediate change.

Influencing driver behaviour is about more than just providing the right surfaces to drive on. Firstly, better guidance must be produced throughout the country. The right signage on roads, combined with very clear visual aids, such as those helping drivers to identify crucial road features, diversions, and to flag road safety impediments, can be influential. This is especially true when combined with aids to help drivers to identify potential areas of vulnerability, such as accessible parking spots. Immediately drawing the attention of drivers in order to help them slow down, pay attention to crucial issues on the road, and in general be more conscientious about their impact on the road and the impact they’re going to have on other drivers. This is crucial infrastructure that can be upgraded immediately.

State of the roads

Part of the challenge that Liberia faces is the high burden of its agricultural economy. Roads are demanded by a mixed use economy, with agricultural vehicles sharing residential and commercial road usage in a non separated manner that is incredibly impactful on the quality of the roads. Typically, bringing out common use scenarios into different road types and routes results in more sustainable infrastructure suitable for typical local use.

As the World Bank has highlighted in a US $76 million package issued to Liberia, over 900,000 road users and farmers need to see infrastructure upgrades in order to start using these roads safely. By applying funding and high quality regeneration toa agricultural routes in particular, the overall safety of roads will be improved. This is the singular most important change that Liberian roads need to start becoming safer, and the World Bank impetus funding will start to produce change in the near future. However, longer term change is needed, and arguably needs to come from a high-tech perspective.

Trialing new technology

Liberia has large swathes of poor quality degraded roads - and yet, they cannot simply be torn up, as the country relies on its networks to keep moving and to keep the economy growing. At a fundamental level, any restriction of movement on the roads could lead to food shortages. With that in mind, there needs to be a shift in how roads are maintained. Recent developments have seen new technology trialed on the same roads that Liberia will most need to meet the challenge on.

Construction Africa have highlighted the trial of UNDERBOLD-POD30, a German road resurfacing agent, as being of the most potential interest. Already being trialed in Grand Bassa County, this technology uses a particularly high grade layering of materials to improve day-to-day elasticity within the ground, which will be of particular interest in agricultural areas. However, while this is best applicable to agricultural uses, the benefits of rolling these technologies out on the wider road network - especially those areas where there are high volumes and a mix of traffic types - will be invaluable.

The infrastructure that Liberia has to offer road users is absolutely making the road safety situation worse. Between the lack of clear direction for drivers and poor quality road substrates, the challenge is very clear. Tackling this requires a radical transformation of the road, and can then be completed with driver reeducation.