Inside ambitious Sh50 billion city expressway plan

Nairobi Expressway.
It could take you just 20 minutes to drive across the city from Mlolongo to Rironi through Westlands if an ambitious, long overdue and grandiose Sh50 billion Nairobi overpass road project comes to fruition.

In a normal flow of traffic, it takes two to three hours to drive on the same stretch through Waiyaki Way, Uhuru Highway and Mombasa Road.

The project was originally set to commence in 2011 but was halted after the Word Bank declined to release funds, citing inclusion of Strabag International in the list of contractors.

The World Bank said it would only finance the project if the Austrian construction company, which had won the tender in 2007, would agree to expand its integrity compliance procedures.

Now, faced with an ever growing congestion problem on its roads, the government has tasked two Cabinet Secretaries to jointly ensure the 27 kilometre ‘Nairobi Expressway’ linking Mlolongo and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to the Nairobi-Nakuru highway is completed strictly within two years.

In a State House meeting two weeks ago, Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Joseph Kinyua asked Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his Water and Sanitation counterpart Simon Chelugui under the Nairobi Expressway Oversight Steering Committee, to ensure the 27 kilometre four-lane road is completed on time.

According to the detailed plan, the Development of Nairobi Expressway Project, the multi-billion shilling road project to be constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) will start in Mlolongo and end in Rironi near Limuru.

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Nairobi traffic

In the plan completed early this month, there will be ten interchanges at Mlolongo, SGR terminus, Eastern and Southern bypasses, Capital Centre, Haille Selasie, Museum Hill, the Mall Westlands and James Gichuru Road junction.

“Already, all feasibility studies, traffic origin and destinations survey, geological investigations and the submission of Privately Initiated Investment Proposal (PIIP) between Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) and CRBC have been completed,” said Kenha Director General Peter Mundinia.

Once completed, Macharia said, the project will significantly reduce traffic gridlocks along Mombasa Road.

Past statistics indicate that the city’s population was expected to rise to seven million by 2030 as car ownership rises from one-quarter of households in 2014 to more than three million motorists by 2025.

In the plan, motorists driving on the express way will have a number of toll stations where they will be required to pay to use the road.

The completed feasibility studies and road design plans have identified 34 acres of public and private land to be acquired for the road and will force a number of big buildings to be brought down.

Some of the properties to be affected include Next Gen Mall, Khalsa Primary School, parts of the Railways Club and Boulevard Hotel.

Others to give way for the road include Uhuru Park, University of Nairobi Catholic Chapel, military camp and National Persons with Disabilities plots in Westlands.

“The ground breaking project will be held around mid-September once Kenha and CRBC obtain approvals to sign the project from the PPP unit, the Attorney General and Cabinet,“

Mundinia said.

From the details, land and building compensations will cost the government over Sh4.1 billion. The expressway is just but one among many costly projects that have heaped burden on Kenyans.

The government has also been entertaining the construction of a Sh350 billion 500km four-lane highway between Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.

A US firm Bechtel Group Inc, a private construction conglomerate, won the contract in a government-to-government deal that formed part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s discussions with President Donald Trump during his US visit last year.

But the government seems to have chickened out due to the ballooning debt.

The proposed project would bypass the capital city to branch off just past Konza and terminate onto the Nakuru highway in Kikuyu, design maps of the high-speed road have revealed.

It would snake through seven counties and terminate at the Changamwe roundabout in Mombasa.

Mundinia said the highway would enable speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour and was expected to reduce travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi to four hours.

Big burden

“But due to the cost implication, National Treasury thought that unless it is a PPP, it would then burden Kenyans,” said Mundinia.

The four-lane expressway was to run along the current two lane highway and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).

SGR gobbled up Sh360 billion to become Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project since independence. Another stretch to the small town of Naivasha that is ongoing will cost the taxpayer another Sh150 billion.

The public debt has risen rapidly in the past six years to the current Sh5.4 trillion, nearly 60 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Prior to its construction, a World Bank report titled The Economics of Rail Gauge in the East Africa Community, dated August 2013 warned that the SGR would not have any economic impact in the country and instead pushed for the refurbishing of the old colonial railway.

“There is no economic or financial case for a standard gauge railway in the East African Community area at this time. A refurbished metre gauge would appear to be the most appropriate option in economic and financial terms,” the report prepared by the lender’s Africa transport unit reads in part.

The report also noted that an investment in SGR would only be justified if the new infrastructure could attract additional freight in the order of 20 to 55 million tonnes per year.

The Nairobi Expressway has not escaped a similar scrutiny. Last year before a new deal was reached, World Bank questioned its suitability, forcing the government to consider a PPP arrangement over a loan funded project.

“We will be considering PPP as a first priority for our mega projects instead of loans,” said Mundinia.

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