“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” exclaimed Dr. Emmett Brown to Marty McFly in the 1985 movie Back to the Future. That was not the case for members of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, on a recent mission in Tanzania involving miles and miles of roads.
Engineers from the Omaha and Philadelphia USACE Districts recently teamed up with a biologist from the Europe District and an environmental chief from Fort Benning, Ga., after being retained by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to provide technical assessments for prioritizing road projects in Africa. In support to the Government of Tanzania they executed inspection of more than 450 miles of roadway, determined overall road upgrade costs and planned road investment budgets for the next fiscal year.
Omaha District Engineers Dave Ray, chief of geotechnical sciences branch; Danny Klima, civil engineer; and Gordon Lewis, geotechnical engineer; were joined by Vanessa Pepi, wildlife biologist from the environmental branch in Wiesbaden, Germany, Europe District; Robert Lawrence, civil engineer from the Philadelphia District; and Patrick Chauvey, chief of environmental programs, Fort Benning, Ga.
From these six individuals, two teams were formed, each having a geotechnical engineer, a civil engineer, and an environmental specialist. Collectively, they were a part of the Tanzania Market Access Roads Project, spearheaded by MCC, a U. S. Government corporation started during the Bush administration as part of the State Department and tasked with providing aid and economic aid with developing countries around the world.
“They are similar to USAID, a big aid agency to the government,” said Klima. He pointed out MCC is more particular about what they will fund so have a strict set of criteria the country must meet before they consider doing projects with them.
MCC organizes what they call Compacts, an agreement to do projects for the country. Other team members from Omaha District have made the journey to Tanzania in the past. Their assessments and recommendations allowed road projects to get underway. Construction is nearly complete on these projects in the first Compact. Now the Republic of Tanzania is looking to create a new Compact with MCC and has proposed projects for MCC funding. The USACE team was brought in to assess the viability of those proposals and provide MCC with the data they need to determine if they meet their criteria.
Ray said colleagues in the Europe District, which is operationally responsible for Africa, remembered previous work done by the Omaha District and recommended them again to MCC. He said, “I think they liked using Omaha because we were responsive on previous projects, so I think they will probably use us again in the future.”
Vanessa Pepi, the wildlife biologist from the Europe District said this was her first time in Tanzania and she found it very interesting. Most of her previous work for the Department of Defense has been integrated Natural Resources Management Plan updates and Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys. “I also really enjoyed being able to see African animals in the wild, especially since I’m a wildlife biologist,” she said.
According to Lewis the task for this trip was to gather information about the roads, photograph existing conditions, and inventory all bridges and other structures. A preliminary environmental and social assessment along the roadways was also performed, and documentation on vehicle traffic, population and area economics was obtained. Based on that information a preliminary cost estimate for upgrading the road to paved standard, improving or replacing the drainage structures, and the cost to compensate residents whose land would be impacted was prepared.
“Right now the roads we looked at are mainly dirt and gravel,” said Lewis. “We were there during the dry season so other than being very rough in places we didn’t have much trouble getting around. The people living there have to deal with it on a daily basis. Since nearly eighty percent make their living from agricultural activities, transportation and access to markets is vital to them.”
Klima said improving the roads is very important to these countries because during the rainy season, which usually lasts four or five months, many of the roads are basically impassable. He said, “If the locals have fruits or whatever that they are growing, and they can’t get them down a road to ship out somewhere, they’ll just sit and rot. That’s why the market road aspect of this particular project is to look at improving these roads to all weather conditions, so that people can sell their fruits and vegetables while they are in season, and grains or other products when market prices are at their highest.”
As far as assessments go, the two teams drove each road segment, looking at the existing alignment to determine whether it has to be changed in order to make the road wider, or to avoid natural or man-made obstructions. Lewis said, “Nearly all the bridges are one lane and old, some dating to the nineteen-twenties or even earlier. They would have to be replaced with two-lane bridges while keeping the existing ones in service during construction, so we were looking at the best alignments for that. Or if the existing structure is still in good condition we will look to see whether a second one-lane bridge could be built to allow two-way traffic.”
Lewis said that geotechnical engineering relies as much on direct observation and experience as on formal testing, especially during an investigation that has to be completed as quickly as this one. He mentioned using a Dynamic Cone Penetrometer, which is basically a sliding weight on a pointed rod. “You pick the weight up, drop it, and count the blows that it takes to penetrate the rod into the ground,” said Lewis. “It gives you an idea of the subgrade conditions.”
Klima said, “When you drive along the roads, it’s just clouds of dust, and it gets everywhere. It’s a respiratory problem for the people there.” MCC is looking for the greatest benefit for the amount of money they would put into the project. “Social benefits would be one of the benefits, as would dust suppression. It would improve the quality of life for the people that live along the road,” he said.
Ray pointed out the multiple team member effort involved. He said one of the challenges was getting people from far-flung locations together. He also mentioned that the Omaha team’s flight from Amsterdam left just one hour before the flight that was shot down over Ukraine, adding to the list of concerns they had to deal with. Following 24 hours of travel, and at least one member of the team who doesn’t like flying, they arrived in country.
TANROADS, the governmental road experts similar to the Federal Highway Administration in the U. S. hosted the two teams. They provided drivers, engineers, and a member of MCC who coordinated anything the team needed. Lewis said that even though there were a couple seasoned travelers in the group in Klima and Chauvey, you still needed someone local to take you where you had to go. “Especially in Dar es Salaam, a city with a population over four million, and on Zanzibar; those areas are just pure chaos. Technically they drive on the left, but actually anywhere there is room will do,” he said.
Chauvey was recommended to Ray by Debora Morrissey, a former Omaha District employee who supervised him at the Europe District. Even though this is Chauvey’s second visit to Tanzania, the first time he was only five years old when his family stopped in Dar es Salaam on their way from Madagascar, the country of his birth. “The project was challenging because we were constantly moving. We covered a total of about 450 kms (280 miles) of bad road at a rigorous pace, inspecting 68 bridges along the way,” said Chauvey.
Klima has been there before on both business and personal levels and remarked that it is a pretty beautiful place. He said it looks different than here, the colors of the landscape, the trees and the ground. And with the last name of Klima, he did admit that the first time he went to Tanzania, it was to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, humbly saying, “It was no big deal.”
Besides the long days of traveling and assessing the roads and bridges, the two teams also enjoyed the country and its people. Ray said, “The friendliest people you’ll ever meet.” Lewis brought back a new perspective on life. He said, “So what if you don’t have the nicest house and you spend a half an hour in traffic, it’s nothing compared to over there. We have nothing to complain about.” It’s hard to maintain daily cleanliness when you have to walk two or three miles with a bucket on your head to get water every day. Despite that the school children all have spotlessly clean uniforms and seem to take great pride in them. “The children were great, usually shy, but also smiling and curious about what we were doing,” said Lewis.
Each member from the Omaha District team agreed that hopefully what they are doing in Tanzania will help to eventually make lives better. “They do mostly subsistence farming,” Lewis said, “so if we can help to improve the road through there, maybe they can start selling some of their produce rather than having it go to waste, because they can’t get to where they need to with the current road system.”
The six member team liked working with the TANROADS engineers. Ray summed it up saying, “Those guys were very smart, even though we had a language barrier, their geotech knew what I was looking for, and we could speak a professional language.”
Klima added that we can’t build a road in Tanzania exactly the same way we would in America, because they just don’t have the money to do it. He said, “In America people are very safety conscious, got to have a guardrail to protect from this and that, slopes have to be a certain angle, where in Tanzania, they are just happy to have a road.”