Nigeria: Retooling the Third Mainland Bridge

14 October 2020

The remediation of the Third Mainland bridge is coming out as promised.

As the renowned Kenyan historian, late Professor Ali Mazrui put it in his 1980 lecture, Africa is the first continent to be inhabited by man, yet it is the last to become truly habitable.

If Mazrui should come back today, he would find that Africa has inched forward, counting Botswana, his native Kenya and even Ghana. But he wouldn't be convinced enough to upturn his paradox, not yet. Nigeria which is the largest habitation of man on the continent has not definitely walked the road to development. In fact, in all indices of development, the nation has regressed from where it was in the mid-1960s. Nigeria has indeed become less habitable than it was in the decade of independence.

By comparison, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Brazil and others who were on the same pedestal with this nation have since soared and joined the developed world. They have since replaced Europe and America as the sources of goods that signpost modern living. Nigeria remains the importer and consumer of modern living while contributing next to nothing. Indeed, Nigeria remains one of the least habitable in terms of the requirements for modern living - infrastructure and social services.

When a nation is so starved of development, while watching peers grow in leaps and bounds; when a nation is done in, not by forces of occupation, but by its own citizens; the outcome is a restlessness bordering on the irrational, if not maniacal.

Such has been the case of Nigeria which over the past 60 years of independence has been led by homegrown rulers, civilian and military, all of whom practically put development unrelentingly on the reverse gear.

Under this scenario, the populace is in a catch-up frenzy - turbo-driven. The announcement of the intention to build a fourth Mainland Bridge in Lagos, a new airport here and there, new super-highways and the like are what generate hope in the masses. Understandably so.

But upon some reflection, one would realize that the desired new development cannot stand and be sufficient all by themselves. A new bridge would be overwhelmed if it's the only one available; ditto for a new airport or a new hospital. The desired new infrastructure or social service has to rest on what is already available to deliver the expected results. The new would eventually replace the old (and in turn get replaced), but this movement has to be phased to deliver maximum benefits.

Keeping existing infrastructure requires maintenance, and perhaps that may be where Nigeria's developmental challenge weighs most heavily. It has been chanted over decades like a nursery rhyme that Nigeria has no maintenance culture. There are hardly any laurels for projects maintained and governments, even from the same party, hanker after new projects for which they can take credit. And without extant infrastructure supporting new ones, they can hardly deliver the goods.

But this sad truth is gradually changing in the course of the present administration. This government didn't wait for grand disaster before fixing the problems that cropped up on the runways of the international airports at Port-Harcourt and Enugu.

This new thinking seems to find its greatest expression in the area of road infrastructure. Practically every week, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings, the federal government announces appropriation for the maintenance of some roads, often across various geo-political areas of the country. Today, there is hardly any major road artery in the nation that is not undergoing maintenance at one point or the other, including total makeovers in parts.

From the nation's dominant seaport at Apapa, to the number one airport, the Murtala Muhammad Airport, huge road works are on in the Lagos area. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway which has seen much more politics than remedial action, is currently undergoing a major makeover. The same is the story of the Enugu-Port Harcourt and Enugu- Onitsha highways which have been in the news for the wrong reasons since the late 1990s.

Interestingly, the populace is increasingly coming to appreciate this new move. Take for instance the attention that the remedial work on Lagos's Third Mainland Bridge is generating. Over the past few years, the populace had observed the deterioration of the bridge, particularly at the joints holding sections of the bridge together. Again, unlike in the past, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN) promised remedial action. Studies of the problems of the bridge which then President Ibrahim Babangida had commissioned in 1990, were undertaken, the most extensive of which necessitated a three-day closure of the bridge in August 2018. Following this, a six-month remedial work schedule was slated by the works minister, starting from July 24 this year to January 24, 2021.

This 11.8km bridge which starts from Oworonsoki, terminates at Adeniji Adele interchange on Lagos Island, links the Apapa-Oshodi expressway and is without doubt, the busiest bridge in Africa. Shutting down such a major artery for repairs was going to be a major challenge.

But Fashola who had governed Lagos in the recent past, knows his terrain. Rather than go for a total blockade, he opted for a partial closure, taking one side of the road at a time. The Oworonsoki-bound lane was marked for the first leg of three months, starting from July 24.

To minimize the stress of commuters during the course of repairs, Fashola, in conjunction with the Lagos State government arranged for traffic flow on sides of the road that would help traffic during the morning and evening rush hours. In addition, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) were mobilized to put special detachments on the construction area (600 men from the latter) to help minimize traffic chokes.

Furthermore, motorists were advised to use alternate routes like the Carter Bridge through Iddo, kicking in through Adekunle to head down to Oworonsoki. Available too is the Ijora Olopa road that leads into Western Avenue.

Keeping to schedule, work started at midnight on July 24. Speaking at the commencement of work, Fashola stated that the partial closure of the bridge was necessitated by the drive for the nation's common good. That night, the Adeniji Adele - Adekunle inward Lagos Island route was closed down. The minister explained that resulting from investigations, seven expansion joints on the bridge which had gone bad would be excavated and replaced.

The second week of work saw the drilling and cutting of asphalt to expose the expanded metal beams. These steel beams were cleaned of tar and granite and robot was deployed for controlled demolition to blow apart the damaged expansion joints without damaging the bridge's mother slab. The robot went to work in the third week, using water at a very high pressure of 1,400 bars for the demolition work.

At the end of the second month, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Olukayode Popoola, declared that the work was progressing according to schedule and that the first phase of work would be delivered in October as promised. "We have been able to cut all the six expansion joints, we have removed the concrete, we have pulled out four, remaining two.

"Hopefully, we are still looking at October, that we will complete the work on the Oworonsoki-bound lane," Popoola said.

One thing is clear; the remediation of the Third Mainland bridge is coming out a promise kept. It is also a demonstration of this administration's understanding that metaphorically, there must be a bridge from the past to the future, if the future must function. So, the Lagos State government can go ahead to build its proposed Fourth Mainland bridge, in the firm assurance that the Third Mainland bridge is there to lend support for the common good.

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