I first came to Liberia four years ago—just as the Ebola epidemic was starting to spread. The classic image of Liberia’s roads was that of a four-wheel drive vehicle stuck in a sea of mud. Today, the situation has dramatically improved. I spent the last week driving around Bong, Nimba, Lofa, and Grand Bassa Counties inspecting the roads that we have improved through the USAID-funded Feeder Roads Alternative and Maintenance Program (FRAMP). I drove on nearly 400 km of these small roads and probably twice as much on the primary and second network to reach them and 90% of the time I was on good roads! The main roads from Monrovia through Bong County and up to Nimba County and over to Grand Bassa are all paved. The road from Bong County up through Lofa County was nicely rehabilitated (we helped with that). Even the feeder roads that were fixed several years ago under a different program remain in good condition.
That last point surprised me. When we talk about the work that we do, we talk about how we “rehabilitate” rural roads and how maintenance is critical especially since Liberia can get over three meters of rain a year. Of course if you don’t maintain these gravel roads, they will just wash away again. But I’ve learned a new narrative. These roads that we are improving were just tracks. They never had a proper driving surface or side drains. If there were any cross-drains, they were built out of rough timber and prone to collapse. When we work on the road, we install culverts and bridges so that water does not need to pass over the road. We build a proper road surface with side drains so water stays off the roadway. We compact the road surface so that the gravel (really a mixture of clay and small pebbles) does not wash away with the rain. Although the road condition will deteriorate over time—especially if the improved road ends up with significant traffic. However, it will never again be as poor a road as it was before we started.
The biggest challenge that we face in maintaining the road is the sudden growth in traffic. Although we designed these roads to be feeder roads—to feed traffic from small villages to the secondary and primary roads—some road segments have become popular shortcuts and now have significant car and truck traffic. Several of our road segments ought now to be upgraded to be secondary roads—given wider carriageways and more gentle curves to allow for faster driving speeds. This is another nice success of our project—helping Liberia to grow.
The four counties that I visited have about half of the feeder roads in the entire country. I understand that there is still much to be done in the rest of the country and especially in the southern counties. I am proud that we were able to play our part in helping Liberia on its path to prosperity.