The construction of a third bridge across the Limpopo at Beitbridge between Zimbabwe and South Africa has been approved by Cabinet, as the Government moves a gear up to ensure required infrastructure is always in place for the rapidly growing regional and international trade in line with its ease of doing business policy.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona said technocrats were already hard at work, setting the necessary legal frameworks and the contractor was completing the feasibility studies while the basic political permissions were being given.
In an interview soon after handing over 220 housing units for civil servants and border agencies to the Ministry of Local Government and Public works at Beitbridge, so the extra staff needed at the upgraded border post have somewhere decent to live, Minister Mhona said President Mnangagwa had started engaging South African President Cyril Ramaphosa over the need for the extra link.
Minister Mhona said they intend to have the new proposed bridge to run parallel to the New Limpopo Bridge.
The original Alfred Beit Bridge paid for by the Beit Trust was opened in 1929 replacing the old Leibigs Drift as the direct road link between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Traffic gradually grew and in the mid 1970s the railway went over the same bridge when the new Rutenga-Beitbridge link was built.
By the mid-1990s the old bridge was hardly coping and in 1995 the second bridge, the New Limpopo Bridge, a pure road bridge, was opened. This allowed the old Alfred Beit Bridge to be dedicated to rail and pedestrian traffic, with the growing flood of pedestrians grateful for the dramatic increase in safety.
Minister Mhona said the Government has so far completed the upgrading of Beitbridge Border Post at a cost of US$300 million through a public-private partnership arrangement, which now allows it to handle the growing traffic for some time with minimal border delays.
The new border post has three terminals namely freight, bus and light vehicles, which have improved the flow of traffic through automation.
In addition, a new fire station, sewer oxidation dam, an animal plant and quarantine centre, a 11,4 mega litres
water reservoir and 220 housing units which fall under the out of port works scope.
The border post handles 15 000 travellers, 1 200 commercial trucks, 1 500 light vehicles, and 120 buses daily.
"Initially when we were undertaking this project, we were supposed to have constructed the second bridge, but because of bilateral arrangements we decided to separate it from the current border work," said Minister Mhona.
"We are happy to note President Mnangagwa is already engaging his South African counterpart (President Ramaphosa) over the issues.
"Cabinet has already sanctioned this project and recently the project was approved and the contractor is doing feasibility studies which are almost done."
The contractor is expected to move on site as soon as engagements with South Africa were complete.
The idea of having a second road bridge is meant to promote regional and international trade by having a seamless flow of commercial cargo through the Beitbridge Border Post.
He said although they were possibilities about traffic being diverted via Botswana to Kazungula Border Post where Botswana, Zambia and Botswana meet, with Zimbabwe now a shareholder of the new bridge there, the Government was offering efficiency as a premium to boost trade through Beitbridge Border Post.
"You will note that this is the shortest possible distance if you want to link with other countries in the north including Malawi, Zambia, DRC and Tanzania. If you come through Beitbridge, you save at least 200km compared to going through Kazungula," Minister Mhona.
"So, in terms of the road network, if we have the second bridge, it will then play as a mitigatory measure in case we have other challenges on the existing infrastructure.
"Besides that, we will have additional lanes on the new bridge. This, is another project we are partaking together with other road infrastructure agencies."
The Government is using the public-private partnership model to stir development nationwide.
The Second Republic is going to mirror the same development arrangement at Chirundu Border Post on the Zambezi, to ensure traffic moving between Zimbabwe and Zambia on the direct northern route can proceed with the same lack of hassle and delay as now seen at Beitbridge.
Minister Mhona said recently Cabinet approved the upgrading of the Forbes Border Post at Mutare, as it rolls out developmental objectives.
"We are rehabilitating the Beitbridge to Harare Road and were also gravitating towards Chirundu, which is commendable. Soon we are moving to the road connecting Beitbridge, Bulawayo and the Victoria Falls", said Minister Mhona.
"This shows the whole of government approach where we have seen other ministers partaking in the Beitbridge transformation project. These include Local Government and Public Works, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage and that of National Housing and Social Amenities."
He said they will also help Beitbridge town to fix some of the secondary damaged roads in line with the ongoing transformation mantra.
"We are going to be reconstructing the road from Beitbridge via Bulawayo to Victoria Falls Road using the model we adopted for the Beitbridge to Harare Road. These roads cannot be done concurrently, but we are moving to that road soon," he said.