Engineering students help solve road construction challenge

By Sempa Ivor and Joseph Lagen

To them, it is coursework. To the community, it is a solution to a longstanding challenge. As Joseph Wasswa, 21, and Freanor Akora, 22, embark on pre-repair road tests on one of the roads adjacent to the university, there is hope from the community, especially the vendors who have been spending a considerable part of the day wiping dust off their merchandise on display. 

Wasswa and Akora are part of the seven-member team of third-year students of Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering undertaking a class project on the Wandegeya-Kauga section of the Bishop Tucker Road. It’s a section outside the gates of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) main campus in Mukono. 

The pre-repair road tests are expected to help inform decisions of government contractors on which resources are best suited to durably reconstruct the road that is riddled with potholes. 

“We are doing a Dynamic Cone Penetration Test, which combines onsite and laboratory tests to determine the traffic load on the roads, the soil type and quality, among others,” Wasswa said. “Our findings will be shared with Mubarak Construction Company Limited, which has been contracted to repair the road.”

Stephan Ntwari, a final-year student of UCU’s program leading to Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering, is using his final research project to sort out the issue of dust on the road. Using scientific research and a unique salt, the 24-year-old Burundian national intends to make dust clouds a thing of the past on the Bishop Tucker Road.

UCU Civil Engineering students

“Having been here for five years, I took the issue of the dust on the Bishop Tucker Road personally,” Ntwari says. His answer to the dust is a spray of a calcium chloride solution. 

“As opposed to using trucks to spray water on the roads daily, because of the soil’s poor water retention abilities, calcium chloride can only be applied once in three months – which, in the long term, is way cheaper than water,” Ntwari explains.

While less expensive, would that not come at a cost to the environment? Ntwari’s answer is no. 

“The amount of calcium chloride used is too negligible to cause any harm,” he said. 

However, the part of the road being sprayed should be more than eight meters (26 feet) from any natural water source. Anything closer would mean runoff water, especially during rain, can pollute the water source with the chemical. 

The project works of the students are made possible through a partnership between UCU’s Faculty of Science and Technology and the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA). UNRA is a government agency authorized to develop and maintain the national roads. 

“This partnership came into being in 2018 and serves two purposes – building the experience of our students and developing the surrounding community,” said Rogers Tayebwa, the head of the Department of Civil Engineering at UCU.  “We have seen its fruits and we are optimistic for more.” 

Certainly, there are challenges in the projects on the roads.

 “It has been raining and rain is not an ideal weather for road works; but we are grateful for the chance to apply our classroom knowledge,” Akor said, beaming under her construction helmet. “Many do not get such an opportunity until they go for internship.”