By JULIUS BARIGABA
The new Source of the Nile Bridge in Uganda is a small section of the Northern Corridor but a significant link that launches the region into the future of road transport.
The smart bridge, located in Jinja Town, about 80 kilometres east of Kampala, is designed to improve traffic flow, digitally enforce axle load limits and ensure road safety.
Although the bridge mainly links eastern and central Uganda, it has a bigger significance for countries that use the Northern Corridor transport route as it serves as the second gateway to the rest of Uganda, eastern Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the northern parts of Tanzania.
“This is a milestone in upgrading the most important trade and transport corridor, and will relieve traffic on the old Nalubaale Bridge,” said Monica Ntege Azuba, Uganda’s Minister for Works and Transport (UNRA).
Launched by President Yoweri Museveni on October 17, the bridge is a dual carriageway, measuring 525 metres long and 22.9 metres wide. It was built at a cost of $125 million, funded through a concessional loan from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA).
President Museveni said that slow traffic, congestion, cargo overload and high frequency of accidents are some of the issues that continually concern road infrastructure planners and transport managers along the northern corridor, despite having speed and axle load control regulations in place.
The East African Community continues to grapple with overloaded cargo trucks despite the regional parliament enacting a law — the East African Community Vehicle Load Control Bill, 2012 — which set the axle load limit at 56 tonnes and a maximum of seven axles for commercial trucks on the region’s road network.
“Road transport accounts for over 90 per cent of passenger and cargo traffic in Uganda, but road safety has deteriorated,” he said. “This dual carriageway Source of the Nile Bridge has features that will greatly improve road safety.”
Future of road transport
Fitted with eight surveillance cameras and sensors to monitor overloaded vehicles, the iconic bridge signals where road transport is headed as economies adopt digital systems to improve the lifespan of highways as well as ensure passenger and cargo safety, according to Uganda National Roads Authority board chairman Fred Omach.
Engineers who worked on the project said there are two weigh-in-motion bridges fitted with cameras to take photos of all vehicles.
Vehicles will be weighed as they travel across the bridge and if detected to be overloaded, the sensors will automatically trigger the cameras to photograph the number plate of the vehicle and transmit data to UNRA’s central information system for follow-up.
The Source of the Nile Bridge has a lifespan of 120 years and is located about one kilometre upstream of Nalubaale Bridge at Owen Falls Dam, which was commissioned in 1954. It replaces the old bridge whose lifespan was 50 years.
Even though the now 64-year old Nalubaale Bridge has worked beyond its design life, Mr Omach said a structural integrity assessment will be carried out to determine if it can serve heavy traffic alongside the new bridge.
The Source of the Nile Bridge is designed for speeds of 80 kilometres per hour.
“This bridge will deliver traffic and improve cargo movement 16 times faster than the old bridge,” said Mr Omach.
The bridge is fitted with laser lighting to illuminate the structure at night and during bad weather during the day — a safety feature that will also be a tourist attraction.
According to the JICA president in Uganda Shinichi Kitaoka, the Source of Nile Bridge represents the latest technology in Japanese bridge engineering, and its unique characteristics will benefit the country and the region.
“The technology used here will inform future projects in Uganda and Africa,” he said.
Among the projects already being mooted for replicating this technology and engineering design is Karuma Bridge — also located along the Nile.
Karuma Bridge is narrow and has become a black spot in recent years due to several fatal accidents.
Transport infrastructure experts argue that the biggest deterrent to this technology is cost, but it should be used in the country’s roads to ease mobility, prolong lifespan and increase safety on the highways.
Planning of the Source of the Nile Bridge had been on the cards for years, but began to take shape in November 2010 when the signing of exchange of notes took place, paving the way for a financing agreement in 2012.
In January 2014, the groundbreaking ceremony was held, and Japanese contractor Zenitaka Corporation started construction of the bridge over a period of 48 months. However, the project took longer than projected by five months due to adverse weather, according to the UNRA board chairman.
Source – The East African