TOLL PLAZAS NOT MONSTERS
THE construction of toll plazas on highways across the country should be seen in the context of sustainable road infrastructure maintenance and development. In the past, Zambia struggled to maintain the road infrastructure because there had not been a sustainable and consistent financing arrangement. Some years back, a fuel levy was introduced as a financing mechanism for road maintenance and development but such an arrangement was not sufficient to meet the rising demand for road projects. Thus the toll plazas being rolled out on main roads should not be viewed as a monster aimed at choking the motorists, but an indispensable national project designed to improve infrastructure. There are numerous foreign automobiles that ply the length and bread of the Zambian roads with heavy loads. Zambia occupies a strategic geographical position in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) where regional integration and trade is rising. Trucks in the region use Zambia as a transit point from various countries in COMESA and SADC regions. The volume of traffic at Kasumbalesa border post linking Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is so huge that the country cannot afford to lose revenue from levies. This, therefore, means that the trucks will have to pay levies at Garneton toll plaza between Chingola and Kitwe. At Michael Chilufya Sata toll plaza between Ndola and Kitwe which was commissioned by President Edgar Lungu yesterday, trucks and other vehicles will have to be levied for the country to rake in more revenue. Kafulafuta toll plaza between Ndola and Kapiri Mposhi is another pay point so is the Manyumbi toll plaza between Kapiri and Kabwe. On the same stretch, there is Katuba toll plaza between Kabwe and Lusaka; there are many more plazas dotted across the country. The heavy cargo trucks traversing Zambia’s roads are laden with copper and other minerals from the mineral-rich Katanga province in the DRC, hence it is justified that they pay to compensate for the wear and tear of infrastructure. Yes, there are some residents who drive on highways on a daily basis as they go for work while others conduct business using the same stretches on a regular basis. However, there are special rates for those living within 10 km radius and also for those who ply such areas on a daily basis. Some people may argue that there are too many payments for motorists, which include road tax, carbon tax, vehicle insurance and now toll levies. But certainly, there has to be a cost-sharing arrangement to ensure a neat and smooth road network. Government has opened up the rural areas through the massive and unprecedented road infrastructure development countrywide. This infrastructure requires huge financing for maintenance and Zambia cannot continue relying on donor to develop and maintain roads. The roads have to be first-rate to improve communication and running of business in all areas of the country. Travellers, entrepreneurs and the general public will now spend less time on the roads because of the many links that have been created. For instance, people travelling from Nakonde to Chama no longer have to use a meandering route through Lusaka to Chipata, Lundazi then Chama. They have a shorter route from Nakonde through Matumbo before Chinsali to Chama district while those in Kabwe will not have to go to Lusaka before getting to Mumbwa. They will have to use Landless Corner to Mumbwa from Kabwe. In order to maintain the network, the plazas are a reliable mechanism to raise financing on a sustainable basis. It is an international practice. Therefore, toll plazas are not monsters!