Expressway of Pain: Kenyans are paying the price for Nairobi’s new chic road

Traffic jam along Kenyatta Avenue below Nairobi Expressway along Uhuru Highway Nairobi on January 20, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Anger, resentment, despair and frustration are perhaps some of the many words that could describe the feelings of motorists traveling between Mlolongo in Machakos District and James Gichuru Road in Nairobi’s Westlands.

The current condition of the lower deck road, which includes Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way, is perhaps what could be described as collateral damage to the Nairobi Expressway, which is not yet operational.

Entire lanes of traffic have disappeared from the three streets and the roads are badly damaged by deep excavations that were left unattended and without signage to warn road users that they could easily fall into deadly ditches.

Pedestrian and cycle paths are marked by piles of dirt, which turn to mud when it rains and are therefore unusable.

Without these, non-motorized road users have to jostle with cars on the congested streets.

The extent of the neglect of the old roads is captured in a viral video doing the rounds on social media, of rainwater from the expressway dangerously draining onto the road below. Woe to you when the water hits your windshield at top speed.

The horrors of the old roads will be lost for those using the 27 km expressway as they descend the new road lined with dewy flowers and a breathtaking view of the city skyline in the background.

There are many fears that the old roads will be left as they are when the expressway is near completion and the earthmoving machinery is withdrawn from the site.

Mombasa Road, for example, is no longer allowed to have three lanes in some sections, while some pedestrian crossing points, including footbridges, have been completely abolished.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) has given assurances that the roads will be repaired before the expressway becomes operational and that the opening of the new road is tied to the rehabilitation of the old roads.

“The expressway is not finished yet. However, Mombasa Road (A8) will also be restored in parallel,” Kenha said in response to an inquiry from financial standard on the progress made so far in the rehabilitation of the old roads.

“The opening of the Expressway is tied to the restoration of Mombasa Road,” the road authority added. Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia has also given the same assurance in previous media interviews, saying that if anything he expects them to remain in better shape than before.

Restoring the ancient roads, the ministry said, is part of the contract the government signed with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the project’s contractor. However, many are not convinced that this will happen.

Motorists Association of Kenya Chairman Mr Peter Murima said the experience gained during construction and the piecemeal repairs carried out on the old roads did not get taxpayers their money’s worth.

“So far, the public has been neglected. They (Kenha) have given assurances that they will rehabilitate the road to the public’s satisfaction before opening the expressway. However, we are concerned that this may not happen and we are evaluating our options, including legal action,” he said.

“The road (Mombasa) itself used to be fine…it could have used some improvements to reduce congestion, but what we have now is a road that has had certain sections cut out. They should rebuild, not just repair.”

Despite assurances from the state, the documents CRBC filed with the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) before obtaining permits for the project do not include a roadmap for rehabilitation of the old roads.

Southern Bypass toll booth on the Nairobi Expressway on the Uhuru Highway, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Natural Justice program manager Mark Odaga noted that the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) used to obtain the company’s environmental permits did not address the issues of road rehabilitation at the lower level.

mitigation measures

“The challenges we face are symptomatic of an environmental impact assessment process that has not been adequate,” said Mr. Odaga.

“The challenges (experienced) speak to the need for adequate ESIA study reports that adequately identify potential impacts and provide adequate mitigation measures. Ideally, the ESIA should have included a detailed remediation plan that addresses the issues that are now emerging.”

However, according to Mr Odaga, all is not lost as there are ways to force CRBC and the government to restore the roads.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) can order the restoration not only of the roads but also of other aspects that were affected during the construction of the new road.

The Environment Watch has already called for around 3,000 seedlings to be planted to replace around 2,500 trees that were felled during the development phase.

“One avenue that could be pursued is to require NEMA to issue an Environmental Restoration Order calling for the restoration of the old road to its prior condition,” Mr Odaga said.

“Such an order could be issued with restrictions on timetables and specific conditions to ensure the old road is restored to its previous condition.”

Mr Murima, from the Motorists Association of Kenya, cited numerous disadvantages of the new road, including the inclusion of the corridor for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. While the government has said in the past there are still plans to integrate the BRT system, he said the expressway’s design makes it unsustainable.

“The central median occupied by the expressway has taken the place for BRT and affected the service of pedestrians and cyclists on the other street,” Murima said, adding that the investors should have acquired separate land to build the expressway up.

Lackluster approach

“When you have a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) arrangement, the private company acquires private land to build the private investment. They took over public space and encroached on what is an important gateway not only for Kenya but also for the Great Lakes region.”

He also sees malice in the lackluster approach to the rehabilitation of Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way, arguing that “they want to make the road so difficult to drive that motorists will choose to go up there (expressway) and to pay the toll fee.”

CRBC developed the road under a public-private partnership (PPP) model, designing, financing and building the road.

In exchange, the company will operate the road for 27 years, during which time it will bill motorists using the road, with the money going towards repairs and other maintenance costs and recovering its investment. It recently established the Moja Expressway, which will operate the road including toll collection.

CRBC had expected to spend Shillings 60 billion to build the road, but this has since been changed to Shillings 88 billion.

The Transport Ministry has said in previous submissions to Parliament that the road will bring in Sh302 billion over 27 years.

CRBC is valued at Sh106 billion (or Sh3.7 billion per year) when initial investment and operating costs are deducted from revenue.

Motorists pay between Sh120 and Sh1,800 to use the road, depending on the distance traveled and the size of their vehicle.

Ambulances, police and military vehicles are exempt from paying road tolls.

Boda bodas and tuk-tuks are not allowed on the street. The Department for Transport has set the base fare at Sh 360 for the entire route between Mlolongo and James Gichuru Road in the Westlands.

The minimum motorists can pay is Sh120 for short distances such as B. Between Museum Hill and Haile Selassie Avenue.

About Sonia Martinez

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