Alternative to Likoni ferries can’t wait

The question of when, not whether, the Government will bite the bullet and build a corridor to South Coast across the Likoni channel has assumed added urgency after the ferry accident over the weekend.

It is utterly ridiculous that the excuse of coat and practicability are the sticking points to settling a matter that has caused untold pain and suffering over the last decade to many in Mombasa.

In addition to the Mtongwe ferry disaster; there have been other accidents and close calls that have more than anything proven that using ferries to link the island to the South Coast. The latter is a major tourist haven with its white sandy beaches, but access to the area is hampered by the inefficient ferries.

There are two options to the ferry. One is a suspended bridge and the other is a tunnel under the sea. Both would be feats of engineering genius, and fairly costly, but in the longer term, they would be a massive boost to the economy of Mombasa in terms of saved man-hours wasted crossing the 500 metres to the other side, as well as the high cost of maintaining and replacing the ferries.

But it has already been done and the expertise is available, not to mention the fact that there would be no shortage of multilateral financiers who would be willing to put their money in such a project, including China and the United Arab Emirates. One ferry is estimated to take two years to build at a cost of Sh1.5 billion. A tunnel or bridge would cost hundreds of billions more, but this would be recouped through the cost savings, and charging motorists a small fee to use the crossing.

Of course an undersea tunnel is the better option since a bridge would need to have a clearance of not less than 50 metres to allow ships to pass underneath, thereby substantially increasing the cost. The only reason any one in Government would be opposed to such an idea would be to protect the corrupt cartels who gain from tenders to replace the outdated and dangerous ferries.

In terms of value, ending the Likoni crossing nightmare is just as important as building the Thika super highway and a second port in Lamu.