The Economic cost of potholes and traffic jams

Dr Ian Clarke The writer Dr Ian Clarke

By Dr. Ian Clarke

There is a matching set of potholes around some speed bumps on the Kansanga by-pass.

This was a CHOGM road, converted from a dirt road to tarmac before CHOGM, and is one of the few such roads that have survived the test of time.

The Kansanga by-pass is narrow but is a vital link from the Jinja Rd, or Bugolobi, through the industrial area to Namuwongo to Tankhill, and on to Gaba Rd for all those who live on that side of town.

I know this road well and have observed that it has developed a number of potholes over the past few months, some of which have been repaired, but KCCA has been very slow at fixing the worst potholes causing the most delays.

KCCA has a pothole repair team in each division, but now the potholes are winning, with new ones springing up faster than the old ones being filled in.

Once a week a small tractor and trailer, a pedestrian roller, some liquid tar, and a small amount of hot premix are brought to some area of the city and a few potholes repaired, but there is no sense of urgency.

When I was Mayor of Makindye I was very involved in this process since my goal was to be pothole-free, but it seems that no one in KCCA has the same vision.

The goal of the pothole repair crews themselves appears to be to get rid of the premix as fast as possible by throwing all of it into one or two large potholes.

This practice, together with the pathetically small amounts of premix that is allocated, results in a very small number of potholes being repaired each week.

The pothole crews also fix them at peak hours, rather than organising the repairs at off-peak hours such as Sundays, thus causing more traffic jams themselves.

They have already fixed several large potholes on the Kansanga by-pass, but have not made it to the worst set around the speed bumps.

These strategically placed potholes leave no escape for the motorists since they are arranged around the speed bumps on both sides of the road, hence the small ‘my-cars’, go very slowly as they struggle to get through them.

The result is a long tailback of traffic and severe traffic delays as people try to get home to beat the curfew. 

Since most of these people are working, they have to take extra time off work to compensate for the delays of sitting in a traffic jam.

In fact, many people are now leaving work early to deal with the jam on the way home.

In this case, if I estimate that each vehicle is spending an extra twenty minutes in the jam to get across these potholes, and during peak hours several hundred vehicles pass this route, then let’s say approximately five hundred people are held up.

If on average their time is worth six thousand shillings per hour (if everyone earned one million shillings per month) then 500 times 20 divided by 60, multiplied by 6,000 shillings =one million shillings.

On this modest calculation, this pothole is costing one million shillings per day, so a delay of fixing it for two weeks costs fourteen million shillings. 

This is the cost of one pothole, so if one is to look at the economic cost of delays caused by potholes all over the city, then KCCA should be making pothole repairs one of its highest priorities. 

We can also apply these calculations to delays caused by the daily curfew – which is a very valid reason to extend the curfew by two hours to prevent everyone from leaving work and hitting the roads at the same time.

But potholes were there long before the curfew, and I still find it baffling that no KCCA manager has prioritized pothole repairs on the basis of the economic cost.

Sometimes I wonder if these engineers do not use the same roads as the rest of us, since unlike the cabinet ministers, they do not have police escorts who whisk them through the jam with sirens blaring, but then maybe they are the people driving those cars with government plates that jump the line. 

The writer is the chairman of International Medical Group, Uganda

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