Swakopmund, Walvis Bay road immnent

By Hilary Mare

THE upgrading of the 46km salt-gravel road between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund to a freeway standards is set be completed by the end of January 2020, Roads Authority (RA) CEO Conrad Lutombi has confirmed.

The project that commenced in 2016 and is part of President Hage Geingob’s Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) also looks to contribute to Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5) and desired outcome 6 of developing Namibia into the logistics hub for the SADC region.

Lutombi noted that the freeway will not only improve road safety and promote economic development but has already created employment for 388 workers with 9% of them female.

“This road is situated in an area which is a very popular touristic destination with many attractions such as the Namib Desert and many other adventurous activities. The road will provide access to the Port of Walvis Bay which is the gateway for international trade. The road is also close to the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine as well as other mines. Construction of this road will therefore ensure the deviation of heavy cargo from the current busy road i.e. TR2/1 and tourist to view the dunes on the way to Swakopmund,” Lutombi explained in view of the importance of the road.

The road which forms part of the inland route between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund (also known as the road behind the dunes or the Dune 7 road), follows the existing bitumen surfaced MR36 from the traffic circle in Walvis Bay towards Walvis Bay Airport up to the intersection on MR44. From there it follows the unsurfaced salt gravel road (MR44) towards Swakopmund on the Eastern side of the dunes belt between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

Confidente understands that this road will improve regional and local transport Corridors and with Namport having unveiled its new container terminal in recent month, the importance of road has been magnified as the port will now also service neighbouring countries making road access imperative to smooth trade and logistics.

“The road will also ensure reduced road accident along the current road joining Swakopmund and Walvis Bay (along the coast) by diverting heavy  and commuter traffic to the freeway, thereby improving road safety and providing for more efficient transport to and from the harbour,” Lutombi further echoed.

A Walvis Bay resident who identified himself as Keith echoed Lutombi’s views and said that he has been a resident of Walvis Bay for at least 57 years and he has seen the currently existing road take so many lives adding that the new road will benefit all of the residents and take a lot of pressure off the B2.

“At the Namibia Uranium Institute we have a working group on its services which includes infrastructure and this working group has clearly identified that the current condition of the B2 is a problem because it’s a narrow road and its not so well maintained. At the moment we have two mines that are using this new road for the transport of staff, supplies and also of their products. There are number of exploration companies that are also using this road so yes this is an absolute lifeline to the uranium industry,” expressed Gabi Schneider, Director of the Uranium Institute.

The nearly N$1 billion projected that is being consulted by VKE Namibia and being spearheaded by UNIK and Thohi as the Joint Venture Contractors was divided in three phases. The first started from TR 2/2 up to Farm 58 comprising of the construction of 30km dual carriageway freeway, including two interchange bridges (on MR52 and TR 2/2) and two bridges over the Swakop River. Phase 2 started from Farm 58 to the Walvis Bay Traffic Circle and Phase 3 will start from Walvis Bay Traffic Circle to Swakopmund (along TR2/1).

Offering a more direct update on the status of the project, Lutombi explained that the project has reached 84% completion and 84% of the contract period has lapsed. Although the Contractor is 34 days behind on the revised programme, at total of 41.2km has been completed encompassing 32.8km on MR44, 4.3km on TR2/2 and 4.1km on Rumps.

Indeed like any other project, this project has had its own fair share of challenges. For 2019/20 financial year, N$360 million was planned for the project, however only N$ 250 million was allocated, leaving a budget gap of N$90 million.

“This will negatively affect the Contractor’s performance as they will have to reduce their production to fit into the budget. This will also cause additional finance costs and delay in the completion of the project,” further noted Lutombi with optimism that the road will be complete early next year.

Clive Meyer, Contract Manager of UNIK Construction noted that the weather has been a challenging factor that they have experienced in the project.

“Due to the weather here in the coast they say things rust quickly and we have had to put more materials in our bridges in particular to make them more durable. There are many locals and SMEs that are working on this project while expats only provide technical expertise.”

Local JV partner, Aron Mutumbulua of Thohi Construction said that they have been learning from UNIK Construction who he referred to as the bigger brother that is helping them learn the processes.

“We have relationship so far and I think during the signing of the contract, RA made it very clear that we needed to work together so that we can all benefit from the project,” he said.

Rudolphine Hangula, an SME Contractor on the project predominantly doing concrete works said herself she is having eleven employees on the project and aspire to a main contractor one day as projects like these have allowed her to grow.

“I have been doing this work for eight years now and as a woman I am very privileged to be doing this work and I must say over the years, I have learnt a lot. I would like to see more women do and if one works hard there are always good benefits.”