HARARE, May 17 (Xinhua) — The dualization of Zimbabwe’s main trunk roads, the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway, will begin following the commissioning of the project by President Robert Mugabe on Thursday.
The groundbreaking ceremony will take place at Chaka Business Center, which is 222 km from Harare on the Masvingo highway and just a stone throw away from the site where 31 people died after a bus crashed with a truck in April.
A press invitation from the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services on Wednesday said that the ceremony would take place Thursday morning.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joram Gumbo told The Herald newspaper that work will be confined to the Beitbridge-Harare component of the road.
“We are happy that the dualization will finally start and though it may not end road accidents along the highway, we believe for those drivers who are careful, the number of accidents will go down,” he said.
An announcement would be made in due course on when work on the Harare-Chirundu highway stretch would begin, he added.
China-domiciled Austrian firm Geiger International will upgrade the Beitbridge-Harare segment at a cost of 998 million U.S. dollars under a 25-year Build, Operate and Transfer model.
It will be done over three years and will have at least 37 new two lane bridges and eight tollgates.
The Harare-Chirundu segment, including the Harare Drive ring road, will be done under a loan financing model and private sector investment contributed by China Harbour Engineering Company.
The highway starts in Beitbridge in the south on the border with South Africa, passes through Masvingo (290 km) and Harare (290 km), and extends to Chirundu to the north on the border with Zambia (352 km).
Some truckers travelling between Zimbabwe and South Africa are now taking alternative but longer routes to their destinations as sections of highway, particularly between Harare and Masvingo, have become dangerous to motorists.
Many accidents have occurred on the highway, especially on the Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge legs, with at least 150 people killed in those involving buses between 2014 and 2016.
The highway was built between 1953 and 1963. The 55-year-old road has outlived its design life of 20 years twice over.
It provides landlocked Zambia with access to the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.
Equipment and goods sourced from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are also transported on the highway which used to be called the Great North Road in the 1950s.
Years of poor maintenance have rendered the highway rugged and pothole-ridden with many areas not having shoulders.
Plans to upgrade the highway have been on ice for more than 13 years following a legal dispute emanating from the government’s cancellation of a tender for the project, which had been won by a consortium running under the banner ZimHighway Consortium.
Work has now been allowed to continue following an out of court settlement between the government and the consortium.
At least 40 percent of the value of the project will be subcontracted to Zimbabwean companies.