Highways key to trade integration.

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While modern railway systems can transport goods and people over long distances, most journeys must be completed by road and so it is vital that road and rail infrastructure is properly integrated.

New inland container terminals are being developed across Africa to allow containers to be quickly and efficiently transferred from rail to waiting haulage trucks. Yet even such an integrated approach will fail without surfaced roads of sufficient quality to serve very heavy vehicles at all times of the year.

As part of plans to diversify the country's transport options, the government of Ethiopia is pressing ahead with the construction of a new road to Kenya. The Mombasa-Nairobi-Addis Ababa Highway will allow Ethiopian traders to access the port of Mombasa and possibly also a second major port planned at Lamu in the longer term.

The AfDB has agreed to provide a $125m loan to fund the second phase of the project. The road is viewed as a key link in the Trans-African Highway Network project, which seeks to promote trade within Africa by strengthening the continent's road network. Africa has a short coastline in comparison to the size of the continent and so land-based trade must be a key component of a successful continental economy.

The toll roads debate

The biggest obstacle to improving road infrastructure in Africa has always been funding. Even in the continent's biggest economy, South Africa, tolls have been introduced to finance road upgrades on many of the country's main long distance highways.

However, attempts to replicate this model within urban areas have met with stiff opposition. The government of Johannesburg's Gauteng Province has been keen to introduce tolls but opponents argue that public transport service should be improved first, in order to give motorists a realistic option.

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As in many parts of the industrialised world, the government of Gauteng argues that it can use income from road tolls to improve both road infrastructure and public transport. However, the big question centres on what should come first: improving public transport or introducing road tolls.

Governments usually prefer the latter, while consumer groups favour the former. Gauteng Province wants to use the new Gau-train system, which uses high speed trains to connect central Johannesburg with the city's prosperous...

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