The Case for Building Roads in Haiti

The Case for Building Roads in Haiti
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Transport problems affect every aspect of life in Haiti. The problems are all too familiar to Haitians. Roads degrade faster than they are rehabilitated or built. The inadequacy of the road network, combined with the pitiful state of roads and transport vehicles, means a large part of the rural population is isolated.

In fact, more than half of these people have no access to transportation, and more than a third rely on roads that are difficult to access. These conditions extremely limit access to basic services and opportunities for economic development.

The research project Haiti Priorise is providing new economic data that could strengthen the case for donor investment in roading.

Haiti Priorise has worked with more than 50 expert economists in Haiti and around the world to create an entire volume of new research that focuses on responses to local challenges. Informed by roundtable meetings with business leaders, civil servants, and sector experts, the project aims to identify the most effective responses in many areas.

Amien Sauveur from the Ministère de la Planification et de la Coopération Externe has researched responses to the road infrastructure deficit. His paper builds the case for investment in two specific projects.

The Northwest department is the only department in the country that does not have access to a single kilometer of concrete or paved road. Port-de-Paix is connected to no other city except by clay roads. The Northwest is highly vulnerable to weather hazards due to the lack of mitigation work such as drainage and gullies, and stabilization of riverbanks.

This situation, coupled with the progressive degradation of river banks, can make it difficult to access communes including Saint-Louis du Nord, Anse-à-Foleur and Chansolme in the event of disasters.

To this end, Dr. Sauveur argues that establishing the Gonaïves road section at Port-de-Paix is of paramount importance.

Working out the costs for the 83km road is fairly straightforward, based on large-scale studies from across the world. Each kilometer of road would cost $300,000 per kilometer in studies, $1.5 million in construction, and $375,000 in maintenance. The total cost would be 16.5 billion gourdes, or $238 million.

The benefits would be manifold. Right now, the average speed of traffic in the area is just 30 kilometers per hour. After the new road is built that will climb to 70 kilometers per hour. People and cargo will move more swiftly. It will save time and money: Dr. Sauveur calculates the time-saved for people will be worth 716 million gourdes to the Haitian economy, and for goods it will be worth 11 billion gourdes.

There will be other benefits. Currently, there are around 320 accidents. Dr. Sauveur estimates that they will nearly halve, thanks to the new road. Put into monetary terms, this will mean annual savings to Haiti of 7.2 billion gourdes ($104 million).

And this one stretch of road will mean that more crops can be delivered to consumers without spoiling. That reduction in post-harvest losses is worth another 8 billion gourdes.

Added together, all of the benefits add up to 37 billion gourdes. So the benefits of building the Gonaïves road is 2.3 times the costs – a respectable investment.

Dr. Sauveur’s second proposed intervention is a bridge across the River Anglais, linking the department of the South and that of the Grand'Anse.

It is a bridge with a length between 120 to 150 meters, costing around 228 million gourdes ($3.3 million). The place where vehicles cross the river now is too close to the coast. As a result, 2-to-3 km of roads would also need to be constructed, to move the bridge further from the coast, at a cost of $3.7 million.

The total cost of planning, construction and maintenance would be 883 million gourdes ($12.7 million).

Similar to the road, the benefits would include saved time for people (worth 30 million gourdes), saved time for cargo (worth 947 million gourdes), and a reduction in vehicle use costs (48 million gourdes). The reduction in post-harvest losses would be worth a large 304 million gourdes. Altogether, these benefits are worth 1.3 billion gourdes ($19 million). This means that building the bridge over the River Anglais will generate benefits to all of Haiti worth 1.5 times the total costs.

The challenges of poor road infrastructure are well known to Haitians. Research highlighting the benefits helps to build the case for greater investment.

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