By Okechukwu Onwuka
What happens when your business objective is not clear or well defined? What if the real objective is different from the goal you communicate to the outside world or customers? Who ultimately gets fooled; the business owner or the customers? Real objectives, in practice, have a way of being revealed, irrespective of how well you try to cover them.
About 7 years ago, the Lekki axis was considered a prime area of Lagos to live. Not necessarily because of availability of state of the art infrastructure but primarily due to the proximity to the new commercial centres, Victoria Island and Ikoyi.
The area boysâ€™ menace in Lagos Island (Marina, Broad Street and surroundings) led to the mass relocation of companies to Victoria Island. Lekki Phase 1 thus became the choice residential area. Relocating to the Lekki axis guaranteed a maximum of 10 minutes drive to the office. The desire to earn more sleeping hours, spend less time in traffic, climb the social ladder as the new Lagos big boy inevitably led to massive growth in Lekkiâ€™s population density. Property price appreciation on the axis reached unbelievable levels just before the economic crisis. This increase in population ultimately led to terrible traffic congestions on the only road linking Victoria Island with all the Lekki communities down to Epe. With the proposed building of an Airport together with the Lekki Free Trade zone projects, the traffic nightmare is not about to end in a hurry. A regular 12 minutes drive from VGC or Ajah to Victoria Island now takes at least 2 hours.
The driver for the relocation to Lekki is gone as more and more people are relocating to the Lagos Mainland. It is only natural that all Lekki residents welcome the Lekki Road expansion project. At least, the lost glory has a chance to return. Unfortunately, as the project execution progressed, hope is gradually turning to despair as we are noticing obvious flaws in the project concept, design and construction.
When you observe the execution process and milestones, you canâ€™t help wondering what the real project objectives are. On the surface, the goal appears to be to eliminate or minimize traffic bottlenecks on the road and thus ease the suffering of the people.Â What is seen however, is the prioritized completion of the toll collection points and accelerated work towards the first of 4 major roundabouts at Lekki phase 1 entrance.
Even after the completion and opening of the bigger and wider Lekki Phase 1 roundabout, the traffic bottleneck at that point has not been eliminated. Add that to the severe traffic jams that continue at Jakande, Chevron and 2nd roundabouts, you begin to wonder how residents will be happy to pay any toll fees under this condition. Traditionally, road users are very willing to pay toll fees when the highway is truly a highway with minimal traffic bottlenecks. Otherwise, inner city routes will do just fine.
Real Objectives: So what really are the main objectives for the project: create wealth on a false premise or create wealth through value-addition to societal needs via problem solving? If the objective is to truly resolve the traffic issues and create a revenue stream as a result, there is nothing really wrong with that.
This is more so if the project is financed through credit or loans. If this is the case, then the project executives would ideally prioritize concept definition and analysis to develop a pragmatic approach that ensures that the problem statement is adequately addressed.Â Preliminary steps will include identifying all major traffic bottlenecks, root causes and then derive strategies to eliminate or manage them.
The strategy development will consider among other things issues such as; traffic density, alternative routes, traffic intersections, road width, rush hours, traffic disruption during construction, narrowest point on highway etc. These steps must be taken before finalizing any contracts, detailed design and/or construction.
If these activities were carried out, it would be practically impossible to miss identifying the need for overhead bridges across all the existing roundabouts as the first deliverable on the project. The most basic of highway design and operating principles recognize that the only way to debottleneck a junction or road intersections is to erect an overhead bridge.
There are too many examples to buttress this point. In Lagos, overhead bridges have been erected at Ahmadu Bello Way (by Bonny Camp), Western Avenue (Alaka/Stadium, Ojuelegba roundabout, Jibowu), Apapa-Oshodi expressway and other parts of Lagos.
In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, these short overhead bridges are far superior to any road width expansion. Afterall, any road is as good as the narrowest point or station. It is also a fact that road width expansion is no substitute for separating intersecting roads. For the Lekki-Epe road expansion project, completing the bridges first ahead of the road expansion would have created instant positive effects for all to see.
First bridge at Lekki Phase 1 roundabout, the second one at the 3rd Roundabout, the others will follow. With improved traffic flow, road users will readily accept to pay the toll fees well before the road expansion is completed. We all know that â€œcustomersâ€ will gladly pay for goods or services that satisfy their core needs. Unfortunately, the toll gate is almost ready for operation but the problem remains. Maybe the projectâ€™s objectives are not very clear.
It is still possible that the projectâ€™s goal was great from the onset but a poor appreciation of internationally recognized project management practices led to the blunder. It is not really common to see Nigerians who really appreciate the value of deep, detailed, structured and multi-layered analysis. Few appreciate the value of specialists and consultants.
Most times we want to just start, execute and then tackle the problems are they arise. Itâ€™s a shame really that a project of this size and magnitude, in this day and time can be so poorly conceived and designed.
The good news is that there is still room for correction. Of course, massive change orders may be involved but thatâ€™s a small price to pay when compared to the associated benefits.