Massive US$99.5 mill Mutare Bypass BOT project a game-changer

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(L-R) The Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs Advocate Misheck Mugadza, the deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joshua Sacco and the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona with the Mutare Bypass design during a recently held tour of the forthcoming landmark project.

…Forbes Border Post consortium working on expansion designs of Forbes Border Post

Ngoni Dapira

THE long -awaited Mutare Bypass road project which will be undertaken by a Harare based company, Leengate Civil Engineering Contractors under a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement is expected to gobble up a whopping US$99.5 million, Easterntimeszim has learnt.

The wholly owned Zimbabwean company, Leengate Civil Engineering Contractors, specializes in housing and property development infrastructure as well as civil engineering works. It was incorporated in 1996 and has been undertaking a lot of projects over years such as the Pomona Infrastructure Housing project, the Arlington East close gated community housing project and several road rehabilitation projects, mostly in Harare, but this is yet to be their biggest project in terms of road construction according to the company’s projects portfolio.

Apart from the construction of the earmarked bypass tarred road, the project fund has also included the construction of two high level bridge crossings at Sakubva River Bridge, adjacent to Murahwa Market (Green Market) and at the Sakubva Bridge flyover, to circumvent traffic congestion and traffic jams often experienced on the busy entrance and exit road into and out of Mutare that also connects with the Mutare-Masvingo highway which is always full of activity.

The Mutare Bypass road will be a 33km stretch road from the 25km peg in Odzi along the Mutare-Harare highway up to the Forbes Border Post link road. At Odzi, the road will cut through some mountain ranges creating an alternative route with a generally flat terrain compared to the steep slopes of the meandering Christmas Pass road that has over the years been problematic for haulage trucks with bulky loads that either break down or are involved in accidents mostly due to brake failure.

Manicaland provincial road engineer in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development Kudzai Maganga (extreme right) explaining about the Mutare Bypass project to the delegates during the tour.

Manicaland provincial road engineer in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development Kudzai Maganga during a recently held tour of the forthcoming landmark project by the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona, revealed that by end of January 2024, onsite work will start on the construction of the bypass link road in Odzi.

“The link road of the by-pass will be constructed at the 25km peg if one is coming from Mutare-Harare. The 33km By-pass road up to the Beira Road turn off to Forbes Border Post will be a 12.5 metres width road and a 5M link standard road, which is the highest standard of roads in Zimbabwe, the same standard as that on the Harare- Beitbridge highway,” said Eng Maganga.

He said the draft designs for the whole 33km detour road and all the bridges are now complete. The project will include construction through greenfield (land that has not been developed) and brownfield (land that has previously been built on) areas, as well as erection of a toll gate.

“The massive project will see the construction of three high level crossing ramps. The first ramp will be at the link road at the Harare- Mutare highway which is near the Grand Reef Aerodrome turn-off in Odzi.  We will blast through some small mountain ranges, with about 17 metres being the highest range, so that we connect with the old Feruka gravel road that passes through Weirmouth suburb all the way up to the Mutare-Masvingo highway at Mutare Teachers College, then turn at the intersection at Murahwa Market into Nyakamete Industrial area to connect with the Beira road to Forbes Border Post. This is all to avoid haulage trucks from using the Christmas Pass and inner city roads through the CBD (central business district),” said Eng Muganga.

Adding, “The terrain is generally flat to reduce accidents by haulage trucks compared to the steep slopes on Christmas Pass. This bypass road will definitely be of international standards.”

The acting deputy director of construction in the Ministry of Transport, Eng Virginia Mawere speaking during the tour.

The acting deputy director of construction in the Ministry of Transport, Eng Virginia Mawere said the bypasss will decongest and act as a freeway for haulage trucks and heavy vehicles to and from the border post, but will be open to all vehicles as well since there is going to be another toll gate erected.

“As part of the Forbes Border Post expansion project we are also going to consider another dry port extension. Concerning the toll gate, further consultations are being done on exactly where to place it but we are going to put designs for an eight lanes road in preparation for the future because we foresee the traffic increasing as we expand our Forbes Border Post with the Beira Port now preferred as the quickest gateway to the sea in Southern Africa,” said Eng Mawere during the tour.

She said the bypass road will be open to all vehicles but it will also have an express way for haulage trucks. Adding that the call by Government for inventiveness by line ministries is what prompted them to include the Sakubva Flyover and Sakubva Bridge expansion under the Bypass road project.

“The bypass will accommodate all vehicle classes but mostly the haulage trucks and heavy vehicles. The road servitude will be reserved for a dual carriageway and even the toll gate will be designed to have eight lanes in the future, four on either sides, but for now we will only build two lanes at our standard 21.5 metres road width,” she said.

The Sakubva Flyover.

Eng Maganga said the Sakubva Green Market Flyover has now outlived its lifespan and needs to be upgraded to accommodate the increase in traffic volumes that use the busy road.

“We had been just patching potholes but this has not been working. There is also continuous breakdown of trucks on this road. We are also appealing for a policy to authorize the PRE (provincial roads engineer) to tow trucks immediately that break down on busy highways to avoid traffic jams which may lead to accidents,” said Eng Maganga in his presentation to the Transport Minister at the flyover site.

Adding,”Plans are designed to dualise and have a railway level crossing road for vehicles driving out of town then the flyover tunnel roads will be for vehicles driving into town.  We will also construct another high level dual crossing bridge at Sakubva River Bridge at Green Market,” he said.

The Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs Advocate Misheck Mugadza said the Christmass Pass highway had become a death trap for haulage trucks and thanked Government for prioritizing the Bypass road and Forbes Border upgrade.

“It is going to be such a relief for many that have been calling for these projects. We are however appealing to Government for the Forbes Border Post to be open 24hours given the increase in traffic and the need for quick clearance of commercial trucks now opting to use the Beira corridor route,” said Min Mugadza.

The Transport Minister said the work ethic by Government in the second republic is of implementation. “We have a listening government and us coming here on a Sunday is proof of our seriousness. We wanted to see what is happening on the ground and get things moving without wasting time to help our people. We are also going to rehabilitate Nyamapanda so in terms of our trunk roads the synchronization of our border posts is going to be enhanced. The culture of the 2nd Republic is to act and move with speed and not political grandstanding,” said the affable Min Mhona.

The chairperson of the portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructure Development Honourable Knowledge Kaitano who was also part of the tour said the 2030 upper middle income economy vision by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is what is spiraling all the development initiatives at a fast pace.

The Mudzi West legislator added that both politicians and the citizens need to work together to propel the wheels of development. “We have confidence in you Hon Minister (Mhona) that you will lead this Transport Ministry to produce the anticipated results. You coming here on Sunday with your team proves your dedication to work and make things happen,” said Hon Kaitano.

The Beira Corridor upshot

Mutare is located southeast of Harare and due to the proximity to the border of Mozambique, it is considered Zimbabwe’s gateway to the Indian Ocean. Following the ongoing expansion and modernization investment at the port of Beira, enabling the port to dock large cargo ships, Beira is now the nearest port for most inland countries in Southern Africa. The port is about 290km from Mutare, which is almost the same distance from Mutare to Harare, about 260km, making it 560km from Harare. The port is therefore now being preferred for imports and exports as a cheaper option comparing with the port of Durban that was mostly preferred before, which is about 1600km from Harare.

Photo: Cornelder de Moçambique

Early this month, the M/V Floriana VI, owned by MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, docked in the port of Beira. According to Cornelder de Moçambique, the post-Panamax container ship, measuring 285 metres long and 40 metres wide, set a new record for the largest ship ever to dock at the port.

Panamax refers to a specific size category of vessels that can pass through the locks of the Panama Canal. They are mainly used for transporting containerized cargo but can also handle liquid and dry bulk shipments. Post-Panamax ships on the other hand now denote ships larger than the Panamax ship that do not fit in the original canal locks, such as supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships. For containers, a Panamax vessel can carry up to 4,500 twenty foot equivalent units (TEUs) whilst post Panamax vessels carry over 14,000TEUs, of which the largest in the world at the moment can carry up to 24,346 TEUs of cargo.

Investment in dredging the access channel, manoeuvring basin and berths has over the years also been decisive in enabling large-capacity ships of the Panamax and post-Panamax types to make use of the Port of Beira more regularly. Cornelder de Moçambique, part of the Dutch company Cornelder Holdings, has been the concessionaire of the cargo and container terminals in the port of Beira for over twenty years.

The Beira port forms part of the Beira Corridor, which is one of Southern Africa’s main transport route, comprising  of a road and rail network linking Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe to the port in Mozambique. The Beira Corridor is therefore the shortest, natural transport corridor between the coast and neighbouring inland countries in the region. The port of Beira also links the minerals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the Indian Ocean, as the shortest route compared to Durban. Products such as refined petroleum, iron ore, chromium ore, ferroalloys and copper are mostly shipped at the port from all these countries.

In April this year, Zimbabwean citrus growers tested the port with their citrus fruits destined for the Middle East and the Far East, so the demand is increasing, which is making the Beira corridor even busier present-day. Beira port is Mozambique’s second-largest facility after Maputo port. Cornelder operates the port through Cornelder de Mocambique, a joint venture with the country’s ports authority Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Mocambique (CFM).

The Beira port is also part of the Madagascar-Beira Corridor Development and Trade Facilitation Project Phase II (PACFC II), which aims to support the interconnection of maritime transport networks in the Indian Ocean and the Beira corridor by linking the Port of Toliara in Madagascar and Beira port.

According to a Mozambique Information Agency (AIM) report, once the earmarked port of Beira upgrade is complete, the investment will increase the port’s annual container handling capacity from 300 000 TEUs to 700 000 TEUs, with further plans to raise capacity to 1 million TEUs a year.

However, the current challenges of delays caused by the road infrastructure at Forbes Border Post and Machipanda Border Post which cannot handle the increase in volumes of haulage trucks has become an urgent concern. A Zambian truck driver who requested anonymity, who was using the Beira corridor route for the first time said a fast solution needs to be done to improve on the road network and delays at Forbes Border post after spending. He said he spent two days in a long queue to reach the border, in this scotching heat wave weather being experienced countrywide with no rest rooms to relieve himself.

 

The queue of trucks in transit to Mozambique going all the way up to the Prince of Wales view along Vumba road waiting to be cleared.

He said before, his company used the port of Durban to ship their cargo, but they are now opting to use the port of Beira. “This is my company’s first load load to the port of Beira. We export copper from Zambia and we used the port of Durban before. Its been two days in the queue and I hope if these delays persist, they should at least work on opening truck zones with toilets and bathing amenities for drivers to refresh, as well as food outlets to buy decent meals in the even of such delays instead of letting trucks queue in roads for two days. In this heatwave its torture to spend a whole day stuck in a queue that barely moves all-day,” said the Zambian truck driver. Adding that in Zambia their truck zones cost 50K (Kwacha) overnight which is about US$2.50, and they are very secure for drivers to rest in the event of delays of clearing papers or offloading goods.

Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) acting Manicaland region manager Chabeka Marekera said there are three types of exports at Forbes Border Post. Direct exports, which are locally manufactured goods from Zimbabwe, then removal from transit exports which are goods coming from outside Zimbabwe but crossing through Zimbabwe, then the third are empties, which are trucks that pass through to collect goods in Mozambique.

He said on average Forbes Border Post is clearing about 450 trucks a day that are going out and about 420 a day that will be coming from Mozambique, but emphasized that the challenge of delays caused by the road infrastructure which cannot accommodate the increase in haulage trucks now using the Beira Corridor as the nearest gateway to the sea.

“We therefore see more business increasing and already business is booming, so infrastructure upgrade at the border post is really needed,” said Marekera.

Adding, ”At the moment queues of trucks are stretching for 11 to 17 kilometres on both the Mozambican side and Zimbabwean side, which is now a matter of serious concern in terms of traffic jams as well as health reasons. Drivers spend two to four days in the queues before getting cleared with queues blocking roads,” he said.

Eng Mawere revealed that an investor Forbes Border Post consortium has already been engaged to upgrade and modernize the border post.

“This border post is a priority earmarked and identified by the Cabinet for modernization and upgrading. They have been working on designs and layouts. They have been here numerous times and the idea of the plans is to address the infrastructure challenges and we note that there is not much space here so we will expand outwards going towards the city of Mutare. We note the need for parking places so expansion will also include another dry port which will include Zimra pre-clearing services to expedite service. We will upgrade the systems and ICT. The road designs will see commercial vehicles being cleared separately from private vehicles,” she said.

The deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development Joshua Sacco and the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) board chairperson Mike Madiro were also among the special delegates that toured the anticipated projects.

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