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Third Mainland Bridge How FG's inefficiency endangered lives on carriageway

On January 21, a layer of the bridge's surface was uncovered by contractors under FERMA; then for two weeks, it lay there, slashing tires and causing accidents.

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There's a feeling when you're driving at 60, 80 km on a long, straight stretch of road; most people that enjoy it say it is almost as if you're faster than the world, they can't catch you; you're so far gone.

On the 11.8km-long Third Mainland Bridge, for the past two weeks since contractors 'peeled off' the top layer of the road's surface, a process know as milling, it has been about holding on to your steering and making sure you make it to the other end of the bridge in one piece.

Most drivers completed that journey with flat or ripped tires. For Michael Adebayo, who uses the road every other day, it has been a story of long pile-ups and fear. "I'm not a great driver" he says, "but that bridge is now something else. Imagine me driving from Ikorodu road on an enjoyable speed, then I get to third mainland and it feels like the road is trying to take the steering from me"

play Patches of the bridge's surface like this were milled and left untouched for weeks, putting road users at risk (Pulse)

 

At night, one wrong swerve can be the difference between home and a very painful phone call.

On the morning of January 21, motorists on the bridge, which connects the mainland to the Island, woke up to a pile-up that spilt into Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Ikorodu Road.

The previous night, Righteous Construction Company, which Pulse gathered was carrying out the repairs on behalf of FERMA, had started work on the roughest patches of the bridge.

There were no road signs to warn road users of this. Neither the Lagos State Government, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing or FERMA informed the general public that repairs would commence on the bridge on that day.

According to sources, even the law enforcement agencies were left in the dark. One of the police officers in charge of traffic on the mainland axis of the bridge, who spoke to Pulse on the condition of anonymity, disclosed that he and his colleagues had no prior knowledge of the repair.

According to him, they had resumed on Monday to find heavy traffic along Iyana-Oworo, leading into Ikorodu Road. "We initially thought there was an accident", he said, "so we called the RRS officers stationed on the bridge to confirm;  they told us that work was going on, so we began making efforts to divert traffic and lessen the congestion".

Officers of the Lagos State Transport Management Agency, who pleaded anonymity, also had the same story to tell.

play Righteous Construction Company, a local contractor, executes the project on behalf of FERMA (Pulse)

From investigations, Pulse discovered that the federal government, in reaction to the present economic climate, has altered its method of awarding and paying contractors for projects.

According to sources at FERMA, contractors are no longer paid the cost of the contract before they execute projects; instead, they are directed to self-finance until they achieve preset landmarks, or the contract is completely executed.

A big part of this budget, which contractors no longer get before they work, is a mobilisation fee. That fund is used to cover preliminaries, such as creating road signs, boards and banners to notify the public.

Ideally, a week would have been enough for the repairs; but two weeks after it was first milled, the road was worse off than before, and the contractors were nowhere in sight.

Reports of slashed tires, seemingly endless traffic jams, and accidents at night slowly became normal, in their usual Nigerian way.

play The traffic jams start long before you get close to the rough patches on the road (Pulse)

 

In a bid to understand the reasons for the delay, Pulse spoke to the Comptroller of Works at the Federal Ministry of Works in Lagos. Engineer Ike, who is in charge of all federal infrastructure projects in the South-West, suggested that the contractor encountered mechanical difficulties while executing the project.

In that time, the ministry, alongside FERMA and the contractor, Righteous Construction Company, held meetings to raise and correct the inefficiency and initial mistakes that caused the difficulties that road users encountered.

In his words, "I noticed that (they didn't notify the appropriate authorities), they made initial mistakes that we corrected, and we're very sorry for it".

He also added that the discussions had borne fruit, as the contractors promised to resume work on Monday.

On the right lane of the bridge which faces the Island and is in worse condition, engineers from Righteous Construction Company began laying the asphalt on Monday, under supervision from FERMA officials.

play After failing at the first instance, there are now road signs alerting road users to ongoing repairs. (Pulse)

 

Despite evident progress, motorists did not hold back their displeasure at the delay, and the added congestion that came from splitting the road into two lanes while repairs continued. Some even made a note to slow down and shout insults in the direction of the men at work.

Still, it seems unusual that the repair resumed so swiftly. By Monday afternoon, the appropriate signs and banners had been placed at regular intervals to notify motorists that work had resumed, and there was a slew of trucks and equipment suddenly ready to commence the work that should have been finished over a week before.

One of the FERMA officials overseeing the project told us that the delay might have been caused by a lack of funds; the initial plan was to mill the entire bridge but the agency considered the cost as well as the effects on commuters who ply the bridge on a daily basis.

Engineer Jubrin, a civil engineer with Lagos East Zone of FERMA said, "the hitch was from the contractor... and all things being equal, we are not supposed to stay for more than a week". He added, "we gave the contractor 90 days, but from the days he collected the award letter to now, over 2 months have been exhausted"

According to Engineer Awodun, Federal Road Maintenance Engineer, Lagos East, those 90 days are part of a larger program for fixing the surface of the bridge that will extend until May, and while the surface of the road will be rough, it is up to the motorists to exercise care.

Speaking to Pulse, he added "Most of the accidents you see on roads are due to the negligence of drivers. What we do is that we put necessary signs to alert people to what's going on; once we have done our part, the responsibility of obeying the necessary rules is not with us"

play Work has resumed on portions of the bridge; and portions of the surface have been repaired. (Pulse)

 

Work on the bridge continues in earnest; by Tuesday, the longest stretch of the milled road was overlaid and smoothened. Considering that a 2-week delay followed barely two days of work in January, any time frame is not particularly assuring.

There's also the issue of a general culture of lethargy and inefficiency that has plagued infrastructural projects in Nigeria, and its effect on the people who use these structures. Third Mainland Bridge may well be fixed in the next few days, but there are tires, cars and frustrated road users that still bear the scars, however small, of those two weeks.

With the number of bad roads around Lagos' complex network, it's only a matter of time till this happens again. It raises one simple question; how long can we continue with systems that seem allergic to working effectively?

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