Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maputo Roads

Many times when you go to a developing country you expect to find bad roads. Most place you won’t be disappointed. We recently heard of a South African family who brought their parents to visit. When they hit a particularly bad stretch of road, the granddad said, “You know the map says there is a national highway that cuts through about here. Why don’t we try to get on that?” The hosts replied, “This is the national highway. This is as good as it gets!”

Within the city of Maputo, there used to be a joke during the civil war era (that lasted 17 years) that went, “How do you tell a drunk driver in Maputo?” The answer was, “He drives in a straight line.” For those of you who have not been in Maputo and experienced some of the roads, this was funny because some of the streets have potholes big enough to lose a car. You have to swerve to keep your car from being destroyed.

A second problem and more of a challenge is the growing number of cars in Maputo. One person told me that in 1987 during the height of the shortages during the war, they walked the streets for 4 hours and only saw 2 cars operating. Today is a different story with tens if not 100’s of thousands of cars streaming into Maputo daily and streets parked so full that often you can only get one car through (especially if there is one car parked badly or double parked and there often is).

In the last year we have seen a glimmer of hope. One of the most crowded streets that had a space designed for putting in a four lane road was suddenly showing signs of being worked on. We looked on in amazement as they began pulling down illegally built shacks and houses that had been build in the right of way. The work progressed slowly to the extent that even after the national elections (now you know what really initiated the project) the road was not finished. Some black top was in place, but many of the details for making the road usable and safe were missing.

When we left town after Christmas to escape the city for a few days, we wondered aloud how long it might still take to finish the job. Probably another couple of months we thought. Surprise, surprise, when we returned 5 days later, the new section of road was open! Is used to take 10-20 minutes to navigate this section of road during the day, sometimes it seemed longer. Engines idling, people driving dangerously to jump the line and constant risk in the intersection with little obedience for the light timing. Now you can get through in one or two light cycles. Amazing. Never mind they are not quite done with the details and there are still workers risking their lives trying to finish the job.

A second miracle is the side streets. On the whole, you still drive straight on these. One day, they blocked off the street near our house and started filling in the holes. I tended to avoid this street if jogging because it was so bad I needed to run on the sidewalk or risk twisting an ankle. (But the sidewalk was not much better.) When done, there was more new asphalt than old in spots, so you know it needed repair.

I was joking with someone who has lived here for twenty years and he said, Hey, this is the first time since independence (1975) that those roads have been repaired. He was not joking. Then he said he had heard they were going to patch the roads first, then put a complete new layer of pavement. I told him, I would only believe that when I see it. Well, you can see it in the photo. Now the only problem is the street is so smooth, the crazies will try to drive 45 MPH on these new roads! Some things never change.


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