Uganda is seeking to use money collected from toll roads to construct new roads and maintain existing ones rather than continue borrowing for the same, authorities have said.
Two weeks ago, Uganda began collecting toll on the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, a major and faster gateway to the country’s international airport.
Authorities say the money collected so far exceeds initial projections. In less than a week, the expressway generated over $70,000, which is to be used to maintain the road and to repay the $350 million loan from the Exim Bank of China used for its construction.
Motorists pay between $1.4 to $5 depending on the vehicle size to use the 51km expressway.
This comes as the Nairobi Expressway, which will be tolled, is said to be 82 percent complete and is expected to be opened to motorists this March, the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) said.
Uganda Works and Transport minister Katumba Wamala told The EastAfrican that going forward, toll fees collected on current and planned expressways will be used to finance other road projects.
“It will be the norm even when the loan payment is finished. We need to start generating our own income to construct and maintain other roads,” he said.
Initially, there was public discontent that introducing the road toll would reduce traffic on the highway in preference for alternatives, but with the current performance, the government is confident to recoup the money.
The French company managing the expressway said only ambulances, fire trucks and the presidential convoy will be exempt from paying.
Allan Ssempebwa, the Uganda National Roads Authority spokesperson, said preliminary numbers show the road tolling is performing well.
“We are now looking at more than 120,000 vehicles of different classes every week and this shows that Ugandans have embraced the project,” he said, adding that in the next five years, four more tolled expressways will be built.
These will be the Kampala-Mpigi, Kibuye-Busega, Kampala-Bombo, and Kampala-Busunju expressways, all currently at different stages of procurement, design or construction.
“These roads are mainly targeting road corridors with high traffic and the essence is that they will reduce this traffic and save time for motorists. We are going expressway because it has proven to work elsewhere,” Mr Ssempebwa said.
In Kenya, the 27km long Nairobi Expressway starts from Mlolongo in Machakos County east of Nairobi and adjacent to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, to the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway on the western side of the city. It is part of the Northern Corridor that provides passage to about 85 percent of the cargo leaving the Mombasa port for Uganda, Rwanda, the DR Congo and South Sudan.
The road is expected to ease flow of traffic through the city, enhancing Nairobi’s economic vitality and improving Kenya’s competitiveness as an economic hub.
The $520 million project is being undertaken as a public-private partnership between Kenya and the Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation. The state acquires the land and provides oversight while the company will construct, operate and maintain the road for 27 years.
Motorists will be expected to pay between $0.88 and $13.66 depending on the class of vehicle and distance to be travelled.
A report by the Kenyan Parliamentary Budget Office in September 2021, however, noted that road-tolling is yet to receive full backing of the public.
Peter Murima, the chairperson of the Motorists Association of Kenya, told The EastAfrican that the association is still opposed to tolls and will protest by asking motorists to avoid the expressway.
According to Mr Murima, Kenyan motorists pay too much tax on petroleum fuel (approximately $0.53 per litre) and tolling a highway would result in double-taxation and infringement of motorists’ right to free movement on a public road.
“The government had proposed tolls on the Thika Superhighway and Southern Bypass in Nairobi and the Nyali Bridge in Mombasa, but we were able to stop them. We are positive that even this one will be toll free,” Mr Murima said.
According to Dr Laji Adoyo, chair of Kenyatta University’s department of Spatial and Environmental Planning, toll-free or not, the expressway is not a viable solution to traffic congestion since public service vehicles are the main form of transport in Nairobi and their profit margins are already too small to afford the fees.
The motorists association and the Kenya Manufacturers Association have also protested proposed toll charges on the Nairobi–Nakuru–Mau Summit Road, that is also part of the Northern Corridor, claiming it will increase the cost of doing business in Kenya and East Africa.
The association also says that the tolls will face a lot of opposition. According to him, it would not make sense for low-income motorists, such as public service vehicle operators, to pay tolls to use the expressway since their profit margins are very small and the fuel levy is very high.