With Botswana’s road infrastructure dilapidating at a worsening rate, one of the few Botswana-born pavement engineers offers her insight on how the situation can be reversed. Dr Selinah Busang makes a case for urgent setting up of toll gates to raise funds for the maintenance of roads. She fields questions from The Patriot on Sunday.
PATRIOT: May you kindly, please, introduce yourself
BUSANG: My name is Dr Selinah Busang. I am a dynamic and resourceful executive engineering researcher driven to develop and implement advanced practical, innovative, cost-effective and sustainable infrastructure engineering systems and technological solutions for roads, rail and ports that enable and support efficient and effective end-to-end logistics (people and goods) to enhance socio-economic development, asset preservation and industry competitiveness. I hold an engineering PhD (pavement engineer) from the University of Pretoria. My expertise involves pavement design, numerical modelling and software development for pavement design and evaluation applications, pavement material assessment, designs and performance evaluation, estimations, and implementation of highway schemes. Also, I have vast experience in the management of road construction and road maintenance, water supply, and any infrastructure project design. This experience covers aspects of a project, including feasibility, traffic planning, geotechnical engineering, accident investigation and analysis, outline and detailed design and implementation of remedial measures.
PATRIOT: What attracted you to a career in road engineering?
BUSANG: My uncle, a civil engineer, raised me; he took me to the site during holidays to appreciate how his designs were implemented. I gradually got interested in pavement engineering.
PATRIOT: What is your general view of Botswana’s road infrastructure, quality of designs and durability?
BUSANG: Sustainable Road infrastructure is expected to be durable for at least 30 years. Still, Botswana roads fail within the first few years after construction or rehabilitation due to pavement design: poor geometrical and materials designs.
PATRIOT: With a small population, Botswana often experiences road jams (in cities – like Gaborone and Francistown) that seemingly point to poor planning. What is your take on this development?
BUSANG: Two cities of Botswana often experience unnecessary traffic congestion during peak hours and holidays due to poor planning and traffic management. Botswana has abundant physical planners, but she does not have traffic engineers. After any development plan is released, the physical planners are responsible for planning and allocating the land depending on the geography and the availability of the land. Traffic engineers add on by planning the traffic distribution and allocation (by the simulation to see if the proposed road infrastructure can work at worst case (using predictions)) without forgetting safety majors. Without traffic engineering not working with physical planners, Botswana’s road infrastructure can never be able to accommodate our little traffic.
PATRIOT: Botswana’s longest road stretch – A1 – has shortcomings; analyse the road and its positives and negatives?
BUSANG: A1 road is a highway; connecting the two major cities is relevant. It is neither freeway (two or more lanes with some borders and limited access to the main road and allow high speed), free tolls (nothing disturbs the traffic)) nor expressway (multi-lanes up to 8 or 10, with bridges and ramps to enable free flow and high speed, concrete structures separate opposing traffic (heavy population)). It is exposed to traffic congestion and many accidents during holidays. Accidents are due to reckless driving and cattle on the road. This road has a few trucks from Gaborone to Palapye, but the density increases from Palapye due to the trucks from the Martins drift border. If this road can be expanded to double lanes, it will be sufficient for our small population. As for stray animals, I suggest controlled gates from the farms and cattle posts and high charges when animals are found on the road.
PATRIOT: There is still no toll gate in this country (except at the recently opened Kazungula bridge) despite the high cost of setting up and maintaining a road network. Identify areas that are high candidates for tolls while offering insight into the value of tolls.
BUSANG: Toll gates are often used to accelerate the availability of funds for paying the loans used for construction, and roads rehabilitation and reconstruction roads. Their purpose is to reduce the total net cost to the economy, ensuring greater opportunity for prosperity and growth. A few roads with high dense traffic can be used for raising funds to improve roads infrastructure. Toll gates can also reduce unnecessary trips. The following are the potential roads for toll gates: Gaborone–Bokaa, Gaborone -Gabane, Thamaga–Kanye, Kanye– Jwaneng, Gaborone–Molepolole, Bokaa–Dibete, Dibete-Mahalapye, Palapye–Serowe. Sekoma–Kang, from Gantsi (In Sehithwa) and from Maun (in Sehithwa). In Serule, Tati siding, Matlhangwane, Nata, Kazungula, Gweta, Charleshill, Sefhophe, Mabudzani, Borolong, Matshelagabedi. It must be noted that, there should be available alternative roads for users who cannot afford toll roads.
PATRIOT: What is the average lifespan of bituminous roads, and do you think Botswana Government is planning well to deal with the challenges of roads that run out of planned use time? The potholes are a common challenge. What’s the ideal system of dealing with them on local and national roads?
BUSANG: Bituminous paving is common because of its accessibility, cheapness and ease to use. Their expected lifespan is 30 to 40 years, including proper rehabilitation. Botswana experienced early pavement damage due to poor pavement design. Potholes and other major damages are a challenge in Botswana, as poor roads are due to poor mixed designs. Proper aggregate packing or a mix design is required for an excellent microstructure to enable a good bituminous mix that can withstand heavy traffic at different climate changes. Without proper aggregating packing, the road will be damaged by water, leading to portholes or crack during winter or form rutting during summer. Also, improved materials like bitumen (glue) are required to sustain dynamic loading and weather changes. All these can be attained through research.
PATRIOT: Which Road infrastructure do you claim ownership of in terms of having designed or advised fully on and effectively ensured it was of a high standard?
BUSANG: Part of the design and supervision team of several Windhoek internal and Vlakfointein roads. Those roads are attractive, well-planned and durable. Also, development permeability model
PATRIOT: Does Botswana have transportation engineers or researchers?
BUSANG: Botswana has one PhD transportation engineer (pavement and traffic) but outside the country, one traffic engineer at the University of Botswana and a few pavement engineers in the private sector. The ministry of transport has no transportation engineer but has generic engineers. That means we may have pavement engineers at the consultant’s side but not at the clients’ side or the contractors or sometimes without pavement engineers at all. Botswana universities are not offering transportation engineering programs; honestly, they do not have transportation engineers at PhD level to teach or supervise students. Botswana has no researchers for transportation to develop and implement advanced practical, innovative, cost-effective and sustainable infrastructure engineering systems and technological solutions for roads, rail and ports that enable and support efficient and effective end-to-end logistics (people and goods) to enhance socio-economic development, asset preservation and industry competitiveness. Researchers are the ones who develop Policies, strategies and standards to run and manage road designs and the construction phase. Botswana has different climates, natural construction materials and unique geometric, so researchers need to work on materials designs for roads and road testing on daily bases. We cannot hire foreign companies to do our research; it is better, cheaper and more sustainable for Botswana to have its own researchers.
PATRIOT: Which country would you like Botswana benchmarks against regarding high-quality road infrastructure, road maintenance and dealing with potholes effectively?
BUSANG: I suggest that Botswana benchmarks from South Africa. South Africa has better road infrastructure; unlike Botswana, South Africa has transportation degree programs at their universities and many researchers for different aspects of transportation disciplines, including geotechnical engineering, traffic engineering, pavement engineering, bridge engineering, passenger transport, rail etc.
PATRIOT: What advice do you have for students who want to follow your career and profession?
BUSANG: I want to plead with senior secondary top achievers to enrol for a bachelor of transportation engineering and come and rescue our country; candidate civil engineers to register for transportation master and PhD programs, including pavement engineering (road or airfield, traffic engineering, rail, passenger transport, operation etc.) Botswana needs transportation researchers to develop and implement advanced practical, innovative, cost-effective and sustainable infrastructure engineering systems and technological solutions for roads, rail and ports that enable and support efficient and effective end-to-end logistics (people and goods. Only Batswana, especially the youth, can build a sustainable future in Botswana.
PATRIOT: Poor-quality graduates or untrained people launch companies to do business for the government ending up with poor infrastructure. How do you advise Government to deal with these unscrupulous companies – aware also that even the most qualified companies can do a shoddy job?
BUSANG: Government must set policies that ensure everyone involved in a project is accountable, from the design company, design auditing company, government engineers, consultants and contractor companies. Contractors and consultant companies who fail projects must be charged, suspended, or banned from bidding. For the engineers involved, their licenses must be revoked.