The new K6.7 billion dual carriageway in Lilongwe may have added beauty to the city, but since its unofficial opening some four months ago, the road is turning out to be a death trap.
The project, which connects middle-class residential and business areas of 49, 18, 14 and the Lilongwe City Centre, has shown a shocking ugly face, particularly on the stretch from the Area 18 Roundabout to Kaunda Road, near Bingu National Stadium.
This stretch of the road has experienced 15 accidents with four deaths.
Traffic Police have since warned they will arrest, for possible heavy court fines, motorists who budge into cyclist’s lanes and displace the rightful lane users.
Assistant superintendent Raphael Kalulu, second-in-charge in the traffic section at the Area 18-based Lingadzi Police Station, said if counter-measures are not taken, the accident rate may continue to rise.
He said: “But 15 accidents and four deaths within a few months is a trend that has shocked and worried us. We don’t want such a beautiful project to become a death trap.”
The stretch between Bingu National Stadium, passing through areas 18 and 14 to Parliament Building Roundabout, took 11 months to complete.
Impressive wide drive ways stretch for a long distance on both sides of the roads boasting spacious lanes for cyclists. Pedestrians have their own pavements on the roads, later to be equipped with solar-powered streetlights.
Meanwhile, the project’s second phase, to have and an overpass to connect the stretches in the middle, along the M1 Road, has already started.
The police and members of the community in the areas served by the dual carriageway concede that the modern road tempts motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists to over-speed.
In a proactive move, Lingadzi Traffic Police Department head superintendent Monica Jekete and her team at the weekend summoned some 70 kabaza (bicycle and motorcycle-taxi) operators to a roadside lecture on the new road project on how to follow traffic rules and prevent accidents.
Kalulu and the police station’s community policing coordinator inspector Rashid Chimala announced that the officers will enforce tough new measures on the road users who will need to curb speed, wear reflectors and use roadworthy machines.
He said: “Motorcyclists have turned out to be some of the most careless road users. From Monday, January 21, all motorcyclists who are not registered, do not have driving licences and go about without reflectors, will be fined or will face the law’s other penalties.”
The resplendently-uniformed senior officer attracted loud cheers among the Kabaza and motorcycle operators when he jumped onto a bicycle-ambulance and dutifully made give-way signals to some vehicles before turning into the busy road.
The law-enforcers have also urged whistleblowers to firm up their cases by preferably capturing such intrusion on video clips or digital photographs.
In his remarks yesterday, executive committee chairperson John Mphoka, who leads a group of civilians working with the law enforcers at the station on security issues, hailed the police initiative to give tips to road users.
“All of us know that this great road can only get much busier in the near future, especially after the signature roundabout overpass is completed. It is commendable that the police want to curb the accidents, especially since those vulnerable include pupils and students walking to and from schools in this community,” he stated.
Lingadzi Police spokesperson Gift Chitowe said the civic education sessions, aimed at making the new road safer, will continue.
“On another level, we have engaged Mota Engil, the project contractor, to consider introducing robots, humps and rumble surfaces on some spots on the road. Such deterrents will be key because although the road is spacious and modern, technically it is not a highway and road users ought to limit their speed,” he added.
Mota Engil spokesperson Thomas Chafunya said the Roads Authority (RA) would need to consider the new road safety proposals which can be implemented by the company if and when the RA gives the company the green light.
Contacted for his reaction, RA chief executive officer Engineer Emmanuel Matapa said the proposals are new to the original design of the project, whose aim was to decongest traffic and enable road users to enjoy faster movement to their destinations.
He stated that humps are some of the physical obstruction objects that may be unethical for such city roads, which surely need many road signs and police monitoring, to check the over-speeding.
Matapa said: “What we have seen is that we need more civic education to the road users on making the road safer. Nonetheless, these are important proposals which have not yet been formally put to us.
“We [RA] will need to discuss with key stakeholders like the police, the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services [DRTSS] and the road users to chart the way forward. Of course, public opinion and the availability of a budget for any changes to the project plan will be key to what finally needs to be done.”
When the portion between the Parliament and the Area 18 roundabouts in Lilongwe was opened to traffic recently, initially there were chaotic scenes, as some drivers and other road users butted into wrong lanes.
Some drivers also deliberately crossed the concrete lane boulders in changing lanes with impunity; traffic police officers caught some of the culprits red-handed and courts have fined them heavily for reckless driving.
Civic education has since cleared the chaos.