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‘The nightmare is over’

By By Regina Akpabio and Omowummi Oluwatosin   |   04 May 2010   |   10:00 pm  
metro_copyLIVING in Lekki Phase One, was for Alex Obo, a dream come true.It was so different from where he lived in Agege.Lekki Phase One was the kind of serene environment he hoped to raise his children in.But there was a problem he was finding very difficult to cope with.When he woke up in the morning and remembered the drive to his office in Ikoyi, his heart sank.
“Each working day of the week was a nightmare as I would be trapped in the traffic from Ozumba Mbadiwe axis to the First Roundabout on the Lekki-Epe Expressway, sometimes for as long as two hours. It was a harrowing experience, ” he told The Guardian last week.  He was not alone, as motorists along the 50-kilometre Lekki-Epe Expressway told stories of long hours in traffic, missed appointments and ill-health arising from the logjam.

The blame was heaped on the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) handling the road project, which is a Lagos State Government-Public Private Partnership initiative.

The project was awarded to LCC to rehabilitate, upgrade with modern facilities and manage the road for a 30-year period after which the road reverts back to the government.

The snarling traffic worsened when the project started in 2008 and sections of the road were closed to traffic.

The short trip from Lekki Phase One to Ikoyi, which should not have taken 10 minutes in normal circumstances, took two, three and sometimes four hours of labourious journey.

But, about a month ago, the stormy traffic along the route came to an end.

The bumper-to-bumper chaotic traffic, the disorderliness and many equipment that had cluttered the road, disappeared.

Motorists could now drive at top speed, aided by white markings on the lanes and close to the First Roundabout, there were LCC’s traffic wardens in lemon-green aprons directing motorists the right direction.

Among the happy motorists and other road users was Obo who said: ” The nightmare is over. We are all happy with the infrastructure.

“It is a great relief because the whole of the Island was grinding to a halt during certain periods, due to the congestion on the road which spilled over into other areas.

From Kingsway Road in Ikoyi through the Falomo Bridge, Ozumba Mbadiwe to Lekki-Epe Expressway to the First Roundabout and beyond, it was really quite tough for us.

” A short trip that should have taken only 15 minutes took three hours due to the traffic congestion.

But all that is over now.

“From my residence, I can get to my office at Walter Carrington Road in 15 minutes.”

Another resident, Mary Onyimadu said: “Thank God the nightmare is over.

I can now resume a programme I used to attend every week in Lekki, which I suspended due to the harrowing experience in the hold-up.

“When going, I used to spend over three hours to the programme and another and three when coming back.”

But a controversy has arisen over whether LCC will collect tolls on the road, which was in the agreement it signed the Lagos State government.

Some residents are protesting, arguing it is improper for them to pay taxes and still pay tolls.

It was even rumoured that a group of people planned to stop the toll by setting ablaze the booths constructed along the road before the speculated date of May I, 2010 they thought the tolling would start.

But some others too, do not see anything wrong with tolls if there is the guarantee that the road will be maintained and there would be no logjam as in the past.

To collect the toll without impeding traffic, LCC has erected electronic digital tollbooths where motorists will carry out the swift transaction without any hitch.

When The Guardian visited the expressway last week, the road was free while security patrol vehicles were stationed at strategic locations.

A motorist, Mr. Simon Ogunde, said: “How will I be paying tolls again when my tax is being used for road construction? The government should not be putting more burdens on the people because the economic situation in this country is enough stress for us.

” If the commercial drivers are paying toll, it means the passengers will be paying for the added cost.”

But a commercial driver, Stephen Eke welcomed the idea on the grounds that it would make his trips faster.

“I like the idea because it will even make things easier for us. When there is no traffic jam, we make more money because we can make return trips as many times as possible.

“If the road is bad and we are trapped in the traffic, the money goes for buying of petrol and repairing vehicles. When the road is good, our vehicles would not breakdown and there would be no stress,” he added.

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), Mr. Opuiyo Oforiokuma who apologized for the pains residents experienced during the construction, said the road was designed to ease movement of millions of Nigerians daily.

He ruled out the speculation that the company wanted to start collecting tolls on May 1, saying there would be no tolls until some structures were completed up to Lekki Phase 1 Roundabout.

Such structures include Exxon-Mobil Bridge from four to six lanes, the construction of the new on-ramp bridge by Caverton Helicopters and the Nigerian Law School area, to link Ozumba Mbadiwe with Falomo Bridge, and other minor works.

Before tolling begins proper, Oforiokuma said a completion certification on the infrastructure would be obtained from the engineer.

According to him, “The construction of the road is not all about tolling alone but rather the provision of convenience and comfort for the people.

“Payment of tolls start only when everything has been completed up to the First Roundabout, perhaps toward May ending or June.”

The tolling system, he said, would be through electronic means and by cash.

“For the electronic options, the e-Tag or SwiftPass will be used.

“The e-Tag will be fixed to the vehicle windscreen on registering for customer account with LCC.

“With this permit, and as long as there is sufficient credit on the customer’s account, the driver is allowed unlimited access through the toll plazas and use of the express lanes. The barrier is opened automatically to allow the motorist passage as long as his account carries sufficient credit.

“But, the SwiftPass is a contactless card that the customer can carry enough credit for a set amount of passages.

“At the tollgate, users will stop to point the card at the card reader. If there is sufficient credit on the card, the barrier opens automatically for the motorist,” he explained.

For the commercial motorists, he said discount would be given since they consider the number of times they would be plying the road.

He also said that there was an alternative route through Legali Ayorinde Road for those who wanted to avoid of payment tolls.

The LCC boss said aside the road, other services the company had provided for the road users at its own cost, included: assistance to motorists whose vehicles break down, such as towing, surveillance and other services to ensure safety on the expressway.

“We fully appreciate the immense value which this expressway portends for enhancing economic development and productivity along the axis, and will continue to strive to ensure that our contractors and other partners complete the project in 2011 as promised,” Oforikuma said.

The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), recently said the concession of the Lekki-Epe Expressway to LCC under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, was a viable option since the government alone could not carry out all the developmental projects that could improve the quality of life of the people in the state.

According to him, the concession and toll arrangement that will run for 30 years is to enable the investors’ recoup their investment before handing over to the government.



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