Great West Road

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The Great West Road of Zambia runs 610 km from the capital, Lusaka, to Mongu, capital of the Western Province. It connects that province to the rest of the country, as well as being one of two routes to the south-west extremity of North-Western Province. It also serves as the main highway of the western half of Central Province.

In the Copperbelt, however, the road going west to Solwezi also used to be known as the Great West Road. At that time Copperbelt Province was, despite its central location, known as Western Province.

Road development was slower to start in the west of the country than in other parts. A dirt road was built from the Great North Road at Landless Corner to Mumbwa in the early 1930s, but was not extended to Kaoma and Mongu until 1937, about ten years after road transport started in other provinces. The Great West Road did not have the same recognition and maintenance as the better-known Great North Road and Great East Road, and was also for a time only the third most used route to the west. A route by ox wagon and boat up the Zambezi from Livingstone was the most used in the first decades of the 20th century. A road was made from Mululwe, the end of the Mulobezi Railway, along the banks of the Luampa River and then across the sandy plain to Mongu about the same time as the Great West Road was built and, thanks to the railway, was used more, until the 1950s.[1]

The first Great West Road was a dirt road with pontoon ferries across rivers such as the Kafue. It passed through only two towns: Mumbwa and Kaoma. The first 100 km passed through farmland and bush north of the Kafue Flats and like the middle section crossing the Kafue National Park, was constructed with laterite gravel. Most of the last third passes through virtually uninhabited bush with no streams or rivers. It is completely dry except after rain in the wet season and is very sandy, which took its toll on trucks and their drivers, as vehicles could get bogged in sand in the dry season, in addition to the usual rainy season hazards of floods and washed-out sections.[1]

The fact that the road started at Landless Corner, 69 km north of Lusaka, suited traffic to and from the Copperbelt. Lusaka did not become the capital of the country until about the time the road was built and it was not until the late 1940s that it became an important centre. A shortcut to Lusaka from Mumbwa via Nakachenje, bypassing Landless Corner, was built around this time.

The Great West Road was first paved around 1969, to a new alignment which, controversially for the residents of those towns, bypassed Mumbwa and Kaoma by a few kilometres. The Nakachenje branch was paved a little later. A lack of maintenance through the late 1970s and 1980s meant that by the 1990s the pavement was in bad condition and had lost in some sections. The Nakachenje branch was in better condition and became accepted as being the Great West Road while the Landless Corner section was neglected, and by 2005, was a poor dirt road.

In the last decade the Great West Road has been rehabilitated and in 2005 was classed as being in good condition.

Westwards extension

An ambitious project, the Barotse Floodplain causeway was started in 2002 to extend the Great West Road from Mongu to Kalabo on a 46-kilometre causeway across the Barotse Floodplain, via the ferry across the Zambezi's main channel at Sandaula, which would then be replaced by a 500-metre bridge. Originally intended to be completed in 2006, it has been delayed by technical problems of building on the floodplain, and consequent funding problems. The long term intention is to then continue the highway into Angola and to connect with its road network as a new trade route for Zambia to Atlantic Ocean ports. If this happens despite the environmental problems of crossing the floodplain, the road could finally rival the Great East Road and the Great North Road in Zambia's network.[2][3]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 H C N Ridley (1954): "Early History of Road Transport in Northern Rhodesia". Northern Rhodesia Journal online at NRZAM.org. Vol 2, No. 5 (1954), pp 16-23.
  2. Sylvia Mweetwa: "Road financiers to extend agreement." Ndola: Times of Zambia, 5 April 2007.
  3. Chris McIntyre (2004). Zambia: The Bradt Travel Guide online at www.zambia-travel-guide.com. Retrieved 21 November 2007.
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