Tollgate users feel pride and pinch of development
The new toll facilities in Sierra Leone were built by a Chinese company in partnership with the government. Road travelers are expected to pay for passing through the highway over the next 25 years.
There are three toll gates along this main highway linking Freetown to the Provinces. One at Hastings, 15 miles east of Freetown, another at Songo, and the last at Masiaka, which is 40 miles (65 km) from Freetown.
So if a bus, a truck, or a poda poda is traveling from Freetown to the provinces, they have to go through all three gates, and when they return, they will pass all the toll facilities again.
Truck drivers, taxi drivers, motorcycle riders, private vehicles all have to pay tolls. Cars pay Le2,000, poda podas, Le4,000; trucks, Le200,000; Okada motorcycles, Le1,000; taxis, Le2,000; and buses pay Le20,000. If a truck is traveling to Bo city, to and fro, it will cost the driver Le1,200,000.
On radio and television programs, the government is encouraging every Sierra Leonean to pay their tolls when they use the road. The government said they cannot pay the Chinese company from taxes. New money has to come from the toll revenue, which is expected to pay the debt on bonds that are issued to fund highways, bridges, and transportation across the country.
Sajor Jalloh is a small trader. She says the fare from Freetown to the provinces, where she buys her produce to sell at the Calaba Town market, has increased because of the tolls that customers pay to use the agency's facilities. She also said that there are still no alternative roads. Karim Sankoh, a taxi driver, said every trip costs Le2,000.
By the end of a workday, he might spend up to Le30,000 on tolls. He said the thought of paying tolls for another 25 years has made him think of looking for another job. Victoria Mac-Johnson, a housewife, complained that food prices have gone up since the toll road gate came into operation. A bag of rice now costs Le200,000, a gallon of palm oil Le150,000, and the prices of all the other items have increased.
Bus drivers, truck drivers, motorcycle riders, and road users all have the same complaints. However, some people think the highway is going to be one of the best roads by the time the Chinese engineers complete the project, so they don't mind paying tolls. Because for any nation to be a great one, everyone has to pay tolls or taxes.
For Young Life in Freetown, I'm Inyilla Borteh Conteh reporting