The Roads Act 2019 (“the Act”), is now in force following its publication on 25th September 2019. The Act reforms the law relating to planning, construction, management and maintenance of public roads, bridges and ferry landings. The Act repeals the Roads Act, (Cap. 358) and the Access to Roads Act, (Cap. 350). Key provisions of the Act are highlighted below;

1. Road tolls to begin

The Act empowers the Minister of Works and Transport in consultation with the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to declare toll roads and prescribe tolls payable in respect of these roads by a statutory instrument. Vehicles exempt from the toll include the Presidential convoy and emergency vehicles of the fire brigade and ambulances.

The Act stipulates that the toll revenue shall be deposited into either the Consolidated Fund or the Uganda Road Fund. The duality in this provision creates an accountability risk and the implementing statutory instrument should be used to clarify this.

The free rides on the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway will soon be over.

2. Public Private Partnerships

The Act allows for road authorities to enter into public private partnership agreements with private entities to operate tolls or collect toll revenue. The private entity as well as the agreement are required to be approved under the Public Private Partnership Act, 2015.

This provision allows for private sector financing of roads. The planned Kampala-Jinja Expressway should be the first road under the new legal regime if it can overcome its current procurement issues.

3. Appointment of road authorities

The Act designates road authorities responsible for construction, alteration, rehabilitation, maintenance, protection and supervision of roads falling within their jurisdiction. The Act has provided for the classification of roads for this purpose, with the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) being responsible for national roads, local government councils for district and community access roads, urban councils for urban roads and city authorities for city roads, therefore, Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) will be responsible for roads within Kampala.

Previously, the country’s road network was managed entirely by the central Government.

4. Road reserves

The Act empowers the Minister of Works and Transport to provide for different widths for road reserves for the different classes of public roads. Under the old Roads Act, the width of a road reserve was set at fifty feet from the centre line of any road. The new provision allows for flexibility in determining the width of road reserves and can be wider depending on the classification of the road.

The consideration behind this provision was to provide for a long-term solution to address traffic jams within the cities, urban areas and along highways.

5. Land acquisition and compensation

The Act provides that acquisition of land, excavation and taking of materials required for road construction is to be done in accordance with the Constitution. Prompt acquisition of land has been a thorny area for the Government and the muted response is disappointing.

6. Access to roads

The Act repeals the Access to Roads Act to consolidate the legal framework relating to roads in Uganda. The Act provides for construction of an access road to a public road or highway through private property after compensation of the affected land owner. It also provides for control, location and design of access roads and introduces service roads, which run parallel to a highway and provide access to property bordering these roads, for purposes of limiting the number of access roads.

7. New offences and high penalties

The Act creates offences including destroying roads, obstruction and interference on roads such as improper erection of bill boards, clogging drains by depositing sewage, refuse or garbage, nuisance on roads and offences relating to toll roads among others. In addition, various offences have been removed from the Traffic and Road Safety Act and provided for under this Act. These include failure to comply with speed limits. The rationale for this interplay between the two Acts is not clear and is likely to cause an administrative headache.

Unfortunately many of the prescribed penalties are outrageously high which will cause difficulties in implementation. A road contractor who fails to meet the standards prescribed by the Minister for Works and Transport may be liable on conviction to a fine up to UGX40 000 000 000 (forty billion Uganda shillings) and in addition, the court may require the contractor to remedy the defects. The value of the underlying road contract or the extent of the failure to meet the standards, appear to be entirely irrelevant. Failure to observe a building line, attracts a daily penalty of UGX40 000 000 (forty million Uganda shillings), obstruction of an officer acting under this Act, attracts a penalty of UGX100 000 000 (one hundred million Uganda shillings) while littering attracts a fine of UGX2 400 000 (two million four hundred thousand Uganda shillings).

The Roads Act 2019, if properly implemented, is a positive step in modernising and developing Uganda’s road infrastructure as well as addressing issues such as financing road construction and maintenance, managing traffic congestion, road safety among others.