Memos to Ambode: No 1- Build the Three Flyovers Lekki ‘Expressway’ Desperately Needs
Mr Governor, welcome to Nigeria’s second hottest executive desk. I would like to start what I hope will be an eight year series of engagements by sharing my thoughts on possibly the most contentious issue in the Lagos political space in the last five years. I want to propose to you and the residents of Lagos, who you are sworn to faithfully serve, a low hanging solution that will resolve the contention over provision of equitable and efficient transport infrastructure to the Lekki Peninsula.
Your government’s land use master plan for the peninsula anticipates 3.4 million residents and 1.9 million transients on 26,000 built up acres. Achievement of this projection, which no one doubts considering the ever accelerating pace of development in that axis, will make this part of Lagos one of the largest cities in the world beaten in the US by only New York City and Los Angeles and in Europe by Moscow, London and St Petersburg. Obviously the Lekki master plan envisages the creation of a very substantial planned metropolis which will be part of Lagos but will pose unique developmental challenges and opportunities. The actions of the Lagos State Government (LASG) to date however belie any intention to systematically overcome these challenges and exploit the opportunities. Nothing showcases this governmental failure as much as the often discussed and lamented Lekki – Epe ‘Expressway’ (LEE).
Faced with an unconstrained road corridor LASG blanched and failed to think big in any way comparable to its own population projection for the Peninsula or its grand plans for it which include an international airport, Nigeria’s first deep sea port, the most promising free trade zone in the country and possibly the largest refinery in the world. Instead of building the first of several modern multi-lane highways to move five million people and service its grand ambitions for the axis, all LASG could deliver was the expansion of the existing dual carriageway from four to six lanes for part of its length. Beyond Sangotedo the much vaunted LEE would offer no more lanes than have existed for decades serving but a fraction of current and projected population and activities. To compound its lack of vision LASG decided to prove it also lacked compassion or any sense of equity by insisting that its ‘expansion’ of the sole artery serving this vital part of the state must be tolled. For a state that proclaims land is its oil and that recognizes the Peninsula as its main urban land bank that contributes significantly to the state’s internally generated revenue via land use charges and consent fees, it was highly insensitive that its only major road would be the test bed for extreme capitalism which is what the whole idea of tolling roads is. Citizens and residents pay taxes precisely to enable governments provide infrastructure and services which include roads for the efficient evacuation and accessing of all parts of the realm. Governments go further and charge car license fees, which are grossly inadequate in Nigeria’s case but that is a different discussion, to provide more revenue targeted at road infrastructure. Peninsula denizens arguably have a higher than average per capita income within Lagos state and pay higher than average taxes too. How then, in God’s name, can it ever be considered equitable that the only arterial road for more than three million people must be tolled? Berlin, Paris, Houston and Chicago each have fewer than Lekki’s master plan population, which is in danger of being overtaken by facts on the ground, and is any of them served solely by a part six lane and part four lane road which is then tolled?
While it is totally unconscionable for a government to add one lane per side for 25 kilometres to an existing road when a suburb becomes a significant economic contributor to the commonwealth, it totally beggars belief to witness the hash that has been made of this attempt to extort the people. In the 14 kilometres between the first toll gate and the infamous Ajah roundabout, LASG’s engineers approved the creation of 10 roundabouts in an apparent effort to minimize the cost of the road and presumably make surplus funds available for other, hopefully licit, purposes. I walk 14 kilometres in 140 minutes but I am rarely able to drive that distance on this nightmare ‘expressway’ in anything less than 180 minutes, at least not without venturing onto the coastal ‘road’ or discovering the inner streets of Lekki phases 1 and 2. On the coastal road I pay another two tolls of N100 each to area boys, over and above the toll paid on the LEE, even while the waves lap the tyres of my car whenever the ocean feels a bit energetic. Despite my willingness to expose myself to danger from both criminal and natural elements, even this option has been snatched from me presumably by agents of LASG who blocked the coastal road over a week ago. The government wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that tax and toll payers were driven to risk lives and limbs with criminals and the Atlantic. LASG didn’t think of how to make the coastal road a truly viable alternative for tax payers not willing to spend up to six hours each day on LEE. It simply shut the option down.
In designing LEE the government was apparently driven to keep it cheap and deny users access to any viable options despite its avowals to provide alternatives when the initial idea of both privatizing and tolling the road were announced. To keep the road cheap it was limited to only three lanes per side up to Sangotedo after which it reverts to the existing two lanes. For the great boon of adding one lane for 25 kilometres our benevolent government planned to erect only three toll gates. A ten lane road like Ikorodu Road (IR) is didn’t strike LASG as apt for what will be Lekki’s spine but that isn’t the only lesson that wasn’t learnt from IR. Ikorodu Road offers one five options for a u-turn and they are all flyovers and an underpass which we have at Jibowu, Anthony, Maryland, Ketu and Mile 12 and these are the most vital design features that keep that indispensable road flowing at all hours no matter how heavy the traffic is. We can imagine how totally unmanageable IR traffic would have been had anyone dared to afflict it with ten roundabout the way LEE has been. The need for flyovers over LEE is rather obvious and no rocket science so one can only wonder why the engineers who designed this road and the politicians who approved its construction as is failed to see the obvious but we shall not delay ourselves here with conspiracy theories for there is a road to fix and lives to be saved.
The Lekki – Epe ‘Expressway’ urgently needs the provision of three flyovers if the last part of its name is to stop being a morbid joke. A bridge at the Admiralty roundabout, another at Jakande and the last at Ajah would suffice for now. All the roundabouts would of course then be closed and the options to reverse direction on this 14 kilometer stretch would be limited to going under these bridges. This would transform a Law School to Ajah trip from a four hour crawl to a 10 – 20 minute dash as the trip would be an unbroken drive soaring over what today are spots notorious for two kilometer tail backs that take an hour each to navigate. Aba Expressway in Port Harcourt is plagued with similar gridlock for the same reason of multiple superfluous intersections. Oil Mill Junction used to be the most notorious traffic black spots on that road until an overpass was built on it. Today only long time Port Harcourt residents remember those nightmarish traffic snarls. Similarly closing off the intersection beside Shell’s Residential Area on the Aba Road permanently eliminated the traffic challenges at that spot. While the government in Rivers might lack the vision and / or courage to apply this solution along the entire stretch of Aba Road, I can only hope that you will instantly grasp the obvious and will not lack the courage to do that which is necessary.
In addition to garnishing it with abundant roundabouts, LEE is barricaded for most of its length by fences and deep storm water drains designed to break linkages to the minor roads that could have provided ways around traffic chokepoints. These barriers to free ingress and egress to LEE must be eliminated to enable the entire road network of the Peninsula work as an organic whole. On the Mainland it is possible to get off Eko Bridge at Ijora and go all the way to Fatai Atere Way without once returning to the main road. Similar time saving detours are possible on Ikorodu Road and all major highways in Nigeria. Why has LEE been chosen for this weird experiment in regimented road usage?
If your new government can build these bridges, eliminate the roundabouts and restore links to side streets which have been broken, lives currently lost to traffic stress induced heart attacks and stroke would be saved but the benefits go well beyond that. Fender benders and worse that constantly occur at the roundabouts and in the jostling for advantage while stuck in immobile traffic will save even more lives, limbs and property. The worst pollution from motor vehicles and the least efficient engine time is when vehicles are standing still in traffic. A close second cause, when it comes to pollution and engine inefficiency, is the need to slow down to navigate a roundabout even when traffic is light. Handled right, LASG might just be able to claim carbon credits for building these bridges which could offset the cost of the bridges. But there is more. The real estate market in the peninsula has been grossly distorted by the great cost in time and stress for each additional kilometer you move away from Victoria Island. Generally a property in Lekki phase 1 will cost up to six times what the equivalent property will cost just 10 kilometres away, five minutes away if LEE were an Expressway in reality. A concrete example is Lekki Gardens which currently sells its four bedroom semi detached duplex at Ajah for less than half the price it sells the same unit off Chevron road which is just six kilometres away. Such distortions, apart from destroying value for citizens, do not promote the efficient use of what LASG has rightly identified as its oil reserve.
Ultimately LASG must do more than just put up flyovers and eradicate roundabouts. To truly turn LEE into an Expressway and future proof it certain other steps, not all as urgent as the need for flyovers and roundabout closures, should be taken. The first such additional step is the creation of proper bus stops with sufficient room for buses and passengers to safely interact and without trammeling the free flow of traffic on the road. The current idea of expanding the road by a mere smidgen and sticking a ‘bus stop’ sign into the ground is the second most important reason for heinous traffic jams on the road at all hours of the day and night. Often buses both big and small take over two of the three lanes in order to drop and pick up passengers while all other traffic is relegated to just one lane. As early as 5.30am this causes up to 30 minutes of delay and tailbacks between Ajah and VGC on the Victoria Island bound side stretching beyond one kilometer. The Peninsula is still wide open and there can be no excuse for not providing LEE with generously proportioned ‘furniture’. Seriously one cannot help but wonder just what the agenda was when this road was designed: punishing the people or undeclared financial rewards?
Another step that needs to be taken to secure the future prosperity of the Peninsula is to expand the road to ten lanes all the way to Epe. This is the only way we can ensure that land use will be efficient with a more gradual and rational price gradient for properties in the axis. Additionally this will delay significantly the need for another expensive arterial road. It is important that this be embarked on now while the necessary space is still available.
Lastly the Green rail line that is projected to go from the Marina to the Export Processing Zone needs to be prioritized. Considering the economic profile of the Peninsula it would be one of the more attractive lines for the private investors expected to build all the remaining rail lines. You should pull out all the stops to make this a reality even before 2019 when you will need the ever increasing votes of the Peninsula’s residents. These steps in addition to the obvious need to get rid of the nuisance toll gates will secure your place in the people’s hearts. You cannot stop any Lekki resident who pays his taxes but provides his own power, water, estate roads, security, sends his kids to private schools and uses private hospitals only to be asked to pay a toll to get into and out of his home from wondering just what your government has ever done for him. Surely LASG is to serve a purpose and that purpose cannot be impoverishment of our lives and pockets. This is the time you must decide how you want to fight the next election: you can start from today by doing what is right and equitable to all residents of this great state or you can count on regents, godfathers and your party to somehow get you another four years in power in spite of whatever the voters feel about you and your service. May God guide you in leaving 20 million lives better than you met them.
Abraham Abiodun Idowu
June 14th 2015