Mutare — Motorists and residents using the Christmas Pass to and from Mutare have expressed concern over delays they are encountering because of the ongoing rehabilitation of the pass, that has taken several months to complete.
They urged the contractors to speed up the project, which started early this year, to allow smooth movement of traffic at the 3km stretch.
Residents and students from Penhalonga, Manica Bridge, Nyazura and surrounding areas, who travel to Mutare on a daily basis, said they were experiencing unnecessary delays at the Christmas Pass.
They said the contractor had taken too long and urged government to take the necessary steps to make sure that the matter is addressed.
"The project has taken too long, and the contractor appears not to be in a hurry to complete the project. Government should intervene because the delays are unnecessary," said David Rupiya, who commutes to Mutare from Manica Bridge almost on a daily basis.
James Mavhiza (33), a cross-border truck driver, said most truckers were failing to get to the Forbes Border Post in time because of the delays at the pass.
"At times we are forced to sleep on the Zimbabwean side of the border because we would have been delayed at the pass, and this costs my company a lot because we are supposed to collect and deliver consignment from the port [in Mozambique] within a few days," said Mavhiza. "We are disappointed by the slow pace at which the contractor is moving to complete the project."
Some motorists have suggested that government should give time frames to contractors who are working on critical areas of the Mutare-Harare Highway, such as the Christmas Pass.
"I think the contractor does not have the capacity to do the job," said one motorist. "Every day I am reporting for duty late although I leave home early, I am delayed here. This is not acceptable. We can't afford to waste time like this."
When Standardcommunity visited the pass last week, the contractor had blocked one lane and traffic from both sides was directed to give each other turns, using a single lane.
Traffic from one direction could be blocked for 45 minutes to an hour, especially during peak hours or when there were several heavy trucks coming or going to Mozambique.
Motorist feared that the contractor would fail to complete the project before the start of the rainy season, further creating a crisis at the pass, the shortest route between Zimbabwe's capital, Harare and Beira Port in Mozambique.
However, the delay has been a blessing in disguise for vendors, as they are making brisk business selling food items and airtime to motorists and construction workers.
"Yes, motorists are complaining but for us it's a blessing in disguise because we are now able to feed for our families.
"There are no hassles and disturbances from the police. We don't pay any tax to the council, so we are maximising on profits," said one of the vendors, Luck Mutimba (24).
He makes a profit of US$35 a day from selling food, drinks and airtime.
Roads Operations deputy director in the Transport ministry, Moses Ruwende said the rehabilitation of the pass was part of a 10-year project of the country's major highways.
He said the project stretches from Plumtree via Harare to Mutare and finally ends at Forbes Border post with Mozambique.
"The disturbance of the flow of traffic is unavoidable, after all its only five or 10 minutes.
"In case of emergency, rescue and emergency vehicles are allowed to pass through even when the other lane is blocked," said Ruwende, who added that the project was being funded by Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
He added that the project involved the Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara) and the South African company, Group Five Limited to form Infralink.