Gabon: Accelerating road transport
On September 7, Gabon launched development work on a key segment of the capital’s primary north-south axis, passing through the Glass district from the Oloumi market to the Lalala highway interchange on the outskirts of Libreville. The project is the first step in a broad urban regeneration effort designed and implemented by the National Agency for Public Works (Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux, ANGT) to address transport blockages in Libreville and Owendo, which have hindered economic growth.
Under the road development project, the Glass segment will be widened and repaved to two lanes in both directions, and roadside green spaces, sidewalks and bus stops for the planned Libreville bus network will be added. Once complete, the renovation will ease circulation through Glass, an industrial and commercial neighbourhood of Libreville, and speed up travel times between the capital and the country’s primary port at Owendo. An ANGT urban planning team has been conducting topographical studies of this section since November 2011. The ANGT originally projected that construction would be complete by the end of 2012, but this remains to be confirmed.
Ultimately, the ANGT’s urban transport project aims to create a more efficient road network in the capital through construction or renovation of existing roads, including the addition of three north-south ring roads and a series of feeder roads leading outward from the coast. Project studies were completed in 2012, and the ANGT expects that work on the five dual-carriageway feeder roads, with a total distance of 25 km, will be completed between 2013 and 2015.
The urban transport project is, in turn, part of a broader effort to overhaul the national road network. In addition to the Programme Routier, which was launched in 2009 with funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to widen and complete the national artery connecting Gabon to Cameroon in the north and the Republic of the Congo in the south, the 2012 National Infrastructure Master Plan includes a number of road construction projects nationwide.
Under ANGT direction, these projects focus on developing transport infrastructure along corridors with the highest concentration of population, resources and economic activity, including expansion and renovation works on the Route National 1 (RN1) and the RN3, which will improve connectivity to key mining, forestry and agricultural zones, as well as speed up transport links.
A third strategic transport corridor set for new road links and expansion efforts lies between the east-west Transgabonais railway route and the Belinga iron ore deposit in the north-eastern Ogooué-Ivindo province. The Belinga deposit contains an estimated 1bn tonnes of reserves and could serve as an important driver of foreign exchange once it enters into production. However, insufficient road access will limit project growth in the short term.
Foreign companies and financial institutions have a critical technical and financial role to play in realising Gabon’s ambitious transport plans. In June, Henri Ohayon, the director-general of ANGT, indicated that the government and the ANGT aim to generate $6bn in investment in road infrastructure by 2016.
Much of this financing is expected to come from foreign direct investment (FDI) and assistance, although the government has not provided specific public-private expectations. ANGT officials noted at the launch of the master plan that private and international financing will be encouraged through a variety of instruments, including public-private partnerships, FDI, loans from international financial institutions, and build-operate-transfer concessions.
Financing for road construction has already been contributed by the AfDB, the primary partner in the Programme Routier, as well as the French Development Agency, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. Foreign companies have also played a major role in the roadwork done thus far. European construction firms, particularly those from France and Spain, have been present on the market for some time, and Chinese companies have been taking on more business in recent years.
Chinese firms China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), SinoHydro and the China Overseas Engineering Corporation (COVEC) secured the contracts for the three segments of the Programme Routier scheduled to wrap up later this year.
The launch of projects, such as the urban road upgrade and improvement of the primary east-west highway, should have a considerable impact on economic growth by providing more efficient transport between production zones in the interior and population, processing and export centres on the coast. Given the lack of a local, trained workforce and the considerable amount of funding needed, Gabon’s goal of creating an efficient road network is one for the medium- to-long term. However, with strong political will and a solid investment and project management framework in place, this will create numerous opportunities for foreign companies in the coming years.