Revealed: How vested interests killed Outer Ring road’s allure

Airgate Centre, formerly Tajj Mall, along Outer Ring Road, Nairobi.
For a piece of infrastructure built on the lessons learnt from constructing the Thika Super Highway, Outer Ring Road had an opportunity to be the best not just in Nairobi but in the whole country and region.

Instead, protection of individual interests of some developers, delays in construction, budget overshoots, design variations and lack of proper planning have turned the highway into a nightmare that residents of Nairobi’s Eastlands have to contend with every day.

So bad is the negative publicity on what was supposed to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s signature highway that the head of state who was supposed to commission it in September last year postponed the event. No new date for the launch has been set as the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) keeps asking for more time.

The dual carriageway was initially supposed to cost Sh7.4 billion, as per the bid application funded by the African Development Bank up to 90 per cent while the government would come in with 10 per cent. Then just after construction was launched in 2015, the budget was pushed up by 24 per cent to Sh9.2 billion.

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Design variation

Mind you, this design variation which pushed the cost up interestingly reduced the width of the main carriage way to 7.5 metres from 9 metres and excluded the bus rapid transport (BRT) line, bridges and flyovers.

Then in April this year after a huge outcry from pedestrians the government pumped in another Sh880 million to construct 11 footbridges at an average cost of Sh80 million per bridge. This is before you mention that there is a new service lane now being constructed at Pipeline Estate to join the Southern Bypass under the bridge next to Taj Mall, which fills with water when it rains.

And with completion of the project now one year and four months late and revelations that Taj Mall which is set for demolition for encroaching on the road, Outer Ring Road is now the latest example on how selfish government officials can damage the reputation of what is otherwise a worthwhile project.

Both the National Land Commission (NLC) and the KURA gave Taj Mall the green light in 2015, saying construction of the road did not require the demolition of the building. The NLC had initially revoked Taj Mall’s title only to rescind its decision. KURA has now denied giving Taj Mall the green light, despite its own map produced in 2015, a copy of which the Saturday Standard has, showing the shopping centre was not on the road.

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“This is to clarify that the current construction of Outer Ring Road will not require Taj Mall building to be demolished,” said KURA’s managing director Sila Kinoti in a letter sent to Taj Mall in November 24, 2014.

The result of this is that motorists joining Outer Ring Road from Mombasa Road have to do so at a blind corner that joins two lanes that go separate ways. Likewise, those joining Mombasa Road from Outer Ring have to go all the way to the Airport’s fence and then make a U-Turn, an unnecessary inconvenience that would have been avoided had engineers stuck to the original design.

A lot of accidents

And motorists are not happy. “If nothing is done about that blind corner at Taj Mall a lot of accidents will happen because the confusion at the junction is evident when you come from Mombasa Road,” says Dickson Mbugua, the Matatu Welfare Association chairman.

Evidently, the design variations, which were made at the intersection between Outer Ring Road and the Eastern Bypass have turned out to be a nightmare for motorists and pedestrians. Conspicuously missing from the original design of the road is a service lane between Taj Mall and Doonholm estate, forcing drivers to do an additional four kilometres up to the Jogoo Road roundabout.

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Up to date, the government has never explained why a four-leaf clover that was in the original design at the intersection with Jogoo Road at Doonholm was changed into a three-leaf intersection and a roundabout introduced as you join Manyanja Road. That design variation has also been identified by motorists as one of the causes of an unending traffic jam for those going to Umoja.

When the Saturday Standard did a spot-check on the road, the contractor was struggling to build what is supposed to be a service lane after cries from motorists about insecurity on the underpass next to the mall.

Such is the nature of works on the 13km road that was supposed to rival the Thika Superhighway in terms of design and engineering. It is one modification after another and addition of safety features as after thoughts.

KURA says it is still a work in progress.

“The project is not yet complete, we have had our own challenges, especially due to space but works are still ongoing,” says KURA communications manager John Cheboi. But to date, the road lacks bus stops and pedestrians have to dangerously jump over guard rails and drainage trenches and avoid oncoming traffic while crossing the road. In its design, the road was supposed to have 11 footbridges.

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However, so far only one has been constructed at Baba Dogo. Meanwhile, pedestrians continue to die. A report released recently by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) ranked OuterRing the most dangerous road in the country.

“Outer Ring road was declared the most risky road, having recorded a total of 23 deaths during that period, which were highest compared to other roads,” reads the report. During this period, Waiyaki Way and Mombasa Road recorded 22 and 21 deaths, respectively.

And despite a 2013 government policy that placed integration of Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) an important element in road construction, Outer Ring lacks cycling lanes and pedestrian footpaths are hard to find. 

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President Uhuru KenyattaKURAOuter Ring RoadTaj Mall