Reopening airport link bridge ends 11 months of pains, extortion
Finally, the Lagos Airport Link Bridge was reopened on Monday, November 29, after it was closed to vehicular activities for 11 months. And though the occasion drew a big sigh of relief from all concerned, many motorists and commuters that ply the route will not forget in a hurry the nasty experiences they had during the closure, which inflicted so much pain and misery on them.
The explosive sound on the morning of January 10, 2021, when two trucks collided under the Airport Link Bridge was deafening and had many around Toyota Bus Stop scampering for safety. Thereafter, one of the trucks not only spilt its diesel contents but also went up in flame, scorching the second truck, the median and the main pillar of the Airport Link Bridge.
It took some time before the fire was put out, due to its intensity that was aided by the diesel. To prevent any calamity, the government felt there was a need to conduct an integrity test on the bridge, especially the section that got burnt.
Before the result of the integrity test was out, however, the Lagos State government announced the closure of the bridge, which naturally had a negative impact on businesses, visitors and residents around the area.
Understandably, it was different strokes for different folks. While for many, the untold anguish they felt in the form of loss of man-hour and revenue was quite huge, others that were shrewd enough profited from the development, as they did brisk business and made illegal money.
The Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, while announcing the alternative routes for motorists pending the outcome of the integrity test, explained that motorists from Mile 2 to Cele on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway approaching Iyana Isolo, could go through the Daleko Bridge and access Aiye and Osolo Way to Asa Afariogun, through 7&8 Bus Stop to eventually access International Airport Road.
Oladeinde advised motorists from Toyota to make use of the service lanes by the Armed Forces Resettlement Centre to BOC Gases on old NAFDAC Headquarters, through a U-turn at Cappa on Agege Motor Road to Bolade/Oyetayo Street, through Bolade on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway via Charity to link the International Airport Road.
When he made the announcement, the commissioner had informed that officials of Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) would be deployed to the corridors to control and manage traffic flow along the axis within the period.
But this was not to be, as the alternative routes were bumpy and failed to meet expectations. Commuters and motorists not only had to traverse long distances to get to their various destinations on rough roads but they also often got stuck in gridlocks, thereby losing precious man hour. To compound the problem, some officials decided to exploit the situation and feathered their nests to the detriment of commercial bus drivers that ply the route and their passengers. Also, traffic officials made little or no effort to manage traffic on the alternative routes. Rather, they preferred to stay at the points they were stationed before traffic was diverted to the alternative routes. With increased vehicular movement on these routes, and especially around Ladipo Market and occasionally Aswani Market, where traders and shoppers usually do their business on the road, the routes became a pain in the neck for many who had to pass through them.
Motorists using the first alternative route that links Osolo Way through Daleko Bridge experienced little hassle on a lucky day, except for the regular traffic snarl at Osolo Way Junction. But once they got on the Osolo Way, the yawning potholes on the road would force them to slow down. This situation was compounded by the high vehicular movement on the routes. Thus, a trip that ordinarily should not take more than five minutes could last for an hour during peak periods.
The second alternative route was not better either. Except on rare occasions, the trip from Toyota Bus Stop to BOC Gases was usually swift. But from that point on, there was often slow traffic, occasioned by unruly commercial bus drivers, who picked passengers indiscriminately, or converted part of the road into a garage. This scenario was the same up to Terminal 1 of the Oshodi Interchange, where a long stretch of potholes slowed traffic to the point where vehicles were making U-turn connect Bolade Bus Stop. Also, a stretch of about 300 metres of the service lane to Terminal 1 was used as a garage by commercial buses.
To connect Bolade was also not an easy task for motorists, as commercial buses indiscriminately pick passengers along the route leading to slow and chaotic vehicular traffic movement.
This made many want to break the law by taking one way through the Odo Iyalaro Bridge. And on hand to enforce traffic rules were task force officials who often extorted motorists. Aside from this, at some point during the closure of the bridge, commercial buses were driving against traffic, using the Odo Iya Alaro Bridge to connect Airport Road, while task force officers looked the other way. They were, however, quick to impound private vehicles and arrest the owners, who dared to drive behind commercial vehicles on the bridge.
Surprisingly, while task force officers were up and doing, in terms of arresting those who drove against traffic, LASTMA officers, whose primary duty was to ensure smooth traffic were almost asleep on the alternative routes. Even when media reports highlighted the challenges motorists were going through driving on the alternative routes, the state government appeared unperturbed. There was even a day the task force team converted a designated alternative route into one-way, going about to arrest motorists and confiscate their vehicles without prior notice of the sudden change.
Also, commercial bus drivers, who used the alternative routes paid money to persons claiming to be officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). These monies naturally should not have been paid at these new points, if not for the closure of the bridge. The collection of fees by NURTW started just a few days after the closure, with multiple points springing up along the routes. For instance, at Fatai Atere Road Junction, the union officials, during the first five days of the closure that commercial bus drivers used the road to connect Bolade, were not collecting money from drivers. But afterwards, no commercial driver could pass through this road without paying the NURTW officials or parts of the vehicle would be removed or damaged, usually the wiper or side mirror. This is aside from hitting the bus conductor with a cane or stick.
Driving through the alternative routes became tedious and wearying, as a journey that should not take more than two minutes took hours. Consequently, many looked beyond the alternative routes provided by the state government. A good example of this is best captured by an incident that involved senior officials of a company on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, who was heading to the airport for their flight and left the office two hours to schedule. But they became very apprehensive, when about 45 minutes to their flight, they were still trying to negotiate a turn at Anthony to connect Airport Road to access the Murtala Mohammed Airport. They were so anxious and were afraid of missing the flight that one of the senior officials had to jump down from the car conveying them to hop on a motorcycle to go ahead of others to pick their boarding passes.
Adepoju Ojo, a resident, said it was bad that a bridge that linked the international airport was closed for 11 months. “Both the state and federal governments have no excuse for the action that caused many people such agony,” he said. “The bridge was just affected by the fire. What if the bridge had had a major structural problem? It would have taken three years or more to fix it? It is pathetic what governance has become in this part of the world.”
Wondering why motorists and commuters were made to go through such stress for 11 months, just because a pillar of the bridge needed to be reinforced, he urged the government to always do the needful and consider the citizens’ plight, whenever such occurs.