Experts have called for a change in city planning if the Blantyre City Council (BCC) is to deal with incessant traffic congestion the city is facing.
Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport executive member Mavuto Missi in a telephone interview urged BCC to consider changing how it plans the city’s road network to avoid chaotic scenes on the roads as experienced in the past few weeks.
Rehabilitation works on the Makata and Old Chileka roads in Blantyre, which connect some of the city’s populous townships to Limbe and Blantyre central business district (CBD), have created congestion on the city’s road network.
Works on Makata Road have affected traffic on the Masauko Chipembere Highway while the expansion of the Old Chileka Road into a dual carriageway has led to congestion between Magalasi and Clock Tower in Blantyre.
Said Missi: “The problem is that the last time Makata Road was rehabilitated, it was supposed to be upgraded to a dual carriage. Among other things, if you want to kill congestion in the city let us have terminals for minibuses going into the CBD so that they drop passengers outside the CBD zone. That will help reduce disorder in the city.”
He said in upgrading the Masauko Chipembere Highway, the city council skipped some important access roads.
“They closed traffic from Blantyre CBD direction heading into Mandala. Another road was taking traffic from Sunnyside to Namiwawa which is now not functional,” said Missi.
According to Missi, as long-term measures, the city should create a presidential motorway, special routes for minibuses and remove hardware merchants from CBD as they bring trucks that contribute to congestion.
Last Friday, when President Peter Mutharika travelled by road from Lilongwe to Blantyre, motorists were forced to wait for hours to accord the President a chance to pass.
But presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, in a written response, said the President was well aware of the traffic situation in Blantyre City; hence, his administration embarking on an ambitious programme to expand the road network in the city and surrounding areas.
He said: “About the congestion that worsens when the President is passing through the CBD, yes, it is frustrating for road users and this does not amuse the President, but it is important to allow the police to do their job professionally.”
In an e-mailed response, director of the Transport Technology Centre at the University of Malawi’s The Polytechnic in Blantyre, Ignacio Ngoma, charged BCC to introduce measures to deal with the problem of traffic congestion in the city by looking at holistic interventions.
“The council needs to introduce congestion tax during peak hours for private cars, also introduce big buses [minimum 36 seaters] on high demand routes such as Blantyre-Limbe in consultation with minibus and bus owners associations.
“BCC must also manage minibus depots apart from converting more roads into one direction traffic after careful studies, reviewing urban structure plans and the introduction of urban rail transport,” he said.
Mutharika in February launched the K4.6 billion 186 kilometres Blantyre City bypass which was said to be a measure of reducing traffic jams in the city.
This followed a BCC announcement in October 2015 that the city would construct bypasses to ease traffic congestion in the city, especially in the Limbe area.
But Malawi Institute of Engineers deputy chief executive officer Wilson Chirwa says the problem that BCC is grappling with hinges on planning.
“At the core of the traffic jams is that most traffic to various city locations has to pass through the city centre. There is need to provide for access from location to location without passing through the CBD.
“In my view, there should have been a bridge over Mudi River connecting Sunnyside and Namiwawa, similarly Chilomoni and could be connected to the Chileka Road through Chikunda Farm. Namiwawa can also be joined to Mbayani Market and Soche Hill area could be connected to the Thyolo Road apart from introducing crossovers on the Masauko Chipembere Highway for traffic north to south over areas,” he said.
BCC town planning and estate services director Costly Chanza in a telephone interview admitted challenges but said the council was implementing a plan that would essentially reduce the challenges so far noted.
He said: “We are aware of the fact that the city roads have been congested of late which could be attributed to several factors. One of the issues is urbanisation as many people are getting into the city from rural areas.
“Apart from that, we have seen an upsurge in the number of new vehicles on our roads. I should say the closure of Makata Road is just temporal and we did not have viable alternatives. We are also aware that minibuses are also complicating matters and we are working to deal with all that.”
Among the interventions, Chanza said the council plans to open bypasses between Sunnyside and Namiwawa where it will fix a broken bridge.
BCC also plans to open bypasses such as Chichiri to Chinyonga, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital to Kamba and from Likhubula to Chilomoni.