Commuters plying the Ughelli-Asaba Expressway, a federal road in Delta State, are already in celebration mood as the on going dualisation of the road by the state government reaches advanced stages. They expressed delight that travel time between Asaba and Ughelli has greatly reduced.

They, however, called on the contractors handling the project to expedite action and deliver in record time. Monday Osahor, a commuter told Daily Sun: “Before now, travelling from Asaba to Ughelli was very difficult because the road was riddled with potholes and deep gullies resulting in lots of accidents.

“Although the ongoing construction work has not be completed, we are already noticing a difference. The road is now more accessible than it used to be. Going to Ughelli now using a commercial transportation is about one hour, unlike when we used to spend hours on the road.”

A commercial motorist, Kelvin Osadebe, said: “In the past, each time I passed that road, my heart was always in my mouth because of the gullies particularly on the Ogwashi-Uku side. The gullies were very deep. They conveniently swallowed even trailers that plunged in.

“The worse part was that the gullies widened with each passing day, and encroached dangerously on the already narrowed path. Nobody cared to condone off the bad spots with warning signs so that motorists would drive carefully when approaching the spots.

“Human lives were threatened on a daily basis. I want to thank Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for responding to the yearnings of the people. But the contractor should increase the pace of work so that the road will be completed as soon as possible.”

A resident of Ogwashi-Uku, Jacob Ndukwe, is “excited” with the advanced stage of the work. He noted that the construction works created direct employment to residents of communities along the road corridor.

He disclosed that socio-economic activities within the communities were already receiving a boost, adding that farmers can now easily evacuate their produce from the hinterland to the urban centres where foodstuffs are in high demand. He thanked the state government for taking the bull by the horn to fix the federal road.

The 149km road is one of the projects inherited by Okowa. It transverses the three senatorial districts, intercepting at the Ughelli end by the East-West Road and kissing the Benin-Onitsha highway at the Asaba end. The single lane road became prone to accident, ostensibly as a result of lack of maintenance.

However, when the state government conceived the Asaba Airport project, it also decided that dualising the Ughelli-Asaba would further stimulate economic activities, to give expression to the Delta Beyond Oil initiative. The road when upgraded, would not only benefit the mostly agrarian communities along the corridor, it would also facilitate business activities between South-East and the Niger Delta.

It was against this background that former governor Emmanuel Uduaghan awarded the contract for its rehabilitation/reconstruction. The project was divided into three sectors. While Sector B (Elu to Ossissa) was completed by Uduaghan, the other two sections were inherited by Okowa.

Commissioner for Works, James Augoye, said: “The project is one of the projects inherited from the previous administration, and it is very strategic to us as a state. Now that the NPA is working, it will take goods down to the East through that road.

“Besides, those plying that road are Deltans and non-Deltans living in the state. If the road is not done, the difficulty of leaving Warri, Ughelli and other towns to Asaba will be there. It is our people that will be in such difficult situation. So it is of immense socio-economic importance to us as a state and to our people. And so we have no choice than to complete it.

“It was started by the previous administration, they did one part which is Sector B from Elu to Ossissa. We are now doing Sector A from Ughelli to Elu and Sector C1 from Ossissa to Ogwashi-Uku junction, and then Sector C2 from Ogwashi-Uku to Asaba. We want to ensure we complete it within the life span of this administration.

“The pace of work is not slow at all. For almost eight to nine months, there was lockdown. The contractor could not work. He returned to site after the lockdown and he is working seriously to meet the timeline.

“Another challenge which is the main one has to do with weather that has not been friendly. We thank God that we are now in dry season, and we are sure of pushing it to a very substantial level. Of course, the issue of funding is a well-known challenge.”

Augoye insisted that the state government was irrevocably committed to completing the road within the shortest possible time. Okowa also noted that the project would continue to receive priority attention. He hinted in his 2021 budget speech that all on going road projects would be delivered.

Perhaps, a proposed inter-change at the Asaba end of the road would be the icing on the cake as far as the project is concerned. The inter-change was initially not part of the project, but a new one for the 2021 fiscal year.

Okowa said recently that the inter-change has become much more important to forestall accidents when the dualisation is fully completed. He said there was need to re-design the point of interception between the Ughelli-Asaba Road and Benin-Asaba-Onitsha, popularly known as Koka junction in Asaba, following the razing of the multi-million-naira recreation park by hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest in October.