Studying the Sustainability of Ghana’s Transportation System

In Spring 2011, several members of the Infrastructure Research Group (pictured below) traveled to Ghana for a transportation study tour. Ghana is a democratic country in Western Africa with a population of approximately 22 million and land area comparable to the state of Oregon. It is a developing country with a growing, urbanizing population. The purposes of the visit were to investigate Ghana’s transportation challenges and opportunities for sustainable development and to establish relationships with researchers, consultants, and leaders in the transportation community.

At the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. (From l-r: Jamie Fischer, Jacob Tzegaegbe, Stefanie Brodie, Emma Bones, Elise Barrella, J.P. O’Har, Dr. Adjo Amekudzi, Dr. Michael Meyer)

At the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. (From l-r: Jamie Fischer, Jacob Tzegaegbe, Stefanie Brodie, Emma Bones, Elise Barrella, J.P. O’Har, Dr. Adjo Amekudzi, Dr. Michael Meyer)

Part of understanding Ghana’s transportation system and its development needs is appreciating the history and culture of the people. As such, the research team took the time to visit important cultural sites like Independence Square, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Museum (for Ghana’s first president), the National Centre for Culture, Makola Market, the Manhyia Palace (former home of the Ashanti rulers), Kakum National Forest, and Cape Coast Castle.

Kwame Nrkumah Mausoleum, Accra

Makola Market, Accra

The majority of the trip was spent studying urban transportation issues in Ghana’s two largest cities: Accra (the capital) and Kumasi. While in Kumasi, the group was hosted by the students and faculty of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), which is Ghana’s premier science and engineering institution. Two members of our group, Dr. Michael Meyer and Elise Barrella, presented to the KNUST community on civil engineering education at Georgia Tech and research on transportation and sustainability. Dr. Meyer also presented a case study of transportation planning and policy in Atlanta to the Ghana Institute of Engineers in Accra. Both talks were well received and will hopefully open the door to future research collaborations.

From traveling within and between the cities and through meeting with members of Ghana’s transportation community, the research team observed several transportation challenges, which are not unique to Ghana but will require solutions tailored to the country’s unique political environment and cultural influences. One of the most striking examples of Ghana’s transportation challenges was the Kejetia bus terminal located in downtown Kumasi. Kejetia is located in a bustling commercial area, which is a positive indicator for the city and the economy; however, the inefficiencies that result in gridlocked traffic are detrimental. In Ghana, only about 15% of automobile transportation occurs via private cars, and most citizens travel on foot or by public transportation. Trotros (privately operated passenger vans) and taxis are the most commonly used modes. Trotros and taxis converge on the Kejetia terminal to drop off and load passengers for intra- and intercity travel. With little regulation and enforcement, Kejetia is highly congested and traffic frequently spills out onto the surrounding road network. Aside from the bus terminal, Ghana’s urban areas experience severe congestion. Physical and technological interventions alone would not be enough to address urban congestion because it is a result of insufficient capacity and inadequate traffic control devices in addition to driver behavior and a lack of enforcement of traffic laws.

Kejetia Bus Terminal, Kumasi

Another significant concern in Ghana is traffic safety, in particular pedestrian safety. According to the National Road Safety Commission, traffic accident fatalities totaled 2,237 in 2009, with pedestrians accounting for roughly one-third of all fatalities. This underscores the safety concerns presented by pedestrian traffic on roadways in both urban and rural areas. In both settings, roadways are shared space for cars, trotros, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists, street vendors, et cetera. In addition, there is very little physical separation of the modes, either by design or by the choice of road users, which increases the possibility of conflicts between travelers. Features like shoulders on rural roadways or sidewalks and designated crossings in urban areas could help to improve safety, but more innovative solutions are probably necessary to ensure that physical design does not inhibit commerce or personal choice.

The research team also observed other challenges such as the lack of redundancy in urban networks, poor pavement conditions on intercity routes, and potential health impacts from vehicle emissions.

Rural Multimodal Corridor

The Ghana Study Tour was an amazing opportunity to investigate transportation challenges in a developing country by experiencing the system firsthand and interacting with other knowledgeable engineers and planners. The experience will not only impact future IRG projects but will also allow individual researchers to view their work through a new lens - applying current research to the context of other countries, cultures and peoples. For example, IRG is very active in asset management research, though focused mostly on US agencies who have a well-developed transportation system and due to limited funding adopt a “fix-it-first” approach to improvements. In Ghana, the situation is very different – engineers and planners are also challenged with limited funding, but are responsible for both maintaining the existing system and for expanding the system to provide basic service and economic opportunities for a majority of the population. The team and other members of IRG look forward to studying Ghana’s transportation system in the future, and working with Ghana’s transportation professionals to help develop tailored solutions in support of a progressively sustainable system. 

New construction in Accra

 

-          Elise Barrella and Stefanie Brodie, August 2011