Why you could pay Sh1,000 to use Rironi-Mau Summit road
By Macharia Kamau | May 22nd 2021
Motorists could pay at least Sh1,000 to use the highway between Rironi and Mau Summit once it is upgraded.
A tentative toll tariff by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) shows that owners of saloon cars will pay Sh6 per kilometre to use the road while heavy commercial vehicles will pay up to Sh24.
Assuming a motorist drives a saloon car the entire 175 kilometres between Rironi and Mau Summit, they would pay Sh1,050.
KeNHA, however, said the toll tariff that is based on a past study is still being refined. It said the charges would go through further consultation before they are finalised, and will be pegged on the weight of the vehicles with heavier load-carrying trucks that cause more damage to roads paying higher rates.
The Rironi-Mau Summit road will be upgraded by a consortium of French firms through a public-private partnership (PPP), where they will design, source for funds and undertake construction.
Rift Valley Highway, the firm formed by Vinci Highways, Vinci Concessions and Meridiam Infrastructure Fund to oversee the project, will then operate the road for 26 years, during which motorists will be paying to use the road.
It is expected to revert to government at the expiry of the period, during which the firm should have recouped its investments.
The firm will expand the road into a four-lane dual carriage, with provision to increase to six-lane when traffic grows in future.
It will also improve the lower escarpment road, which stretches from Kamandura in Limuru to Mai Mahiu and onwards to Naivasha, and improve safety on segments that are dangerously narrow.
“One of the outcomes of a study in 2015 to establish how transport infrastructure can be funded was that the government can adopt PPPs to tap into private sector financing,” said KeNHA at a virtual presentation on the progress made in gearing up to start construction of the road.
“When this happens, there has to be a mechanism to compensate them for the investments. Generating revenues through tolls was one of the mechanisms that was identified.”
KeNHA said the study came up with a rate of Sh6 per kilometre per passenger car unit. “This is the number being reviewed on whether it is affordable and once it is agreed upon, we will be able to tell the public what the government has adopted as a toll tariff.”
Different vehicles will pay different rates as, according to KeNHA, they have different damaging effect on the road. The 2015 study put the highest rate at Sh24 per kilometre, which would be paid by heavy commercial vehicles.
KeNHA said the cost that motorists will pay would be a fraction of the savings they will make because of improved service. Currently, it noted, vehicle maintenance and fuel consumption costs are high due to the poor state of the road.
Unlike the Nairobi Expressway, the other major project being undertaken under PPP, where motorists will have the alternatives of using Mombasa Road, Waiyaki Way and the Southern Bypass, there are no clear alternatives to the Rironi-Mau Summit Road.
This begs the question, will all road users be compelled to pay toll to use the road?
The authority said the Rironi-Mau Summit Highway will adopt an open toll system, where motorists can use the road for extended stretches without having to pay toll.
The Nairobi Expressway will adopt a closed toll system, where motorists will be required to pay whenever they use the 27-kilometre road between Mlolongo and Westlands.
“When talking about PPP road projects, there are two systems of tolling, open and closed. For closed , you have to provide an elaborate alternative for people who do not wish to pay to use and this is what will happen with the Nairobi Expressway,” said KeNHA.
“For the Rironi-Mau Summit road, it will be an open tolling system. Anybody can use the greater part of the road without necessarily paying.
“For instance, if you are starting your journey at Rironi and are going to Nakuru and the toll station is at Gilgil, you can use the road from Rironi all the way to Gilgil without paying anything. It is only when you get to Gilgil you will have to pay.”
Motorists can also use alternative routes once they get to Gilgil and rejoin the road at a later point.
“It is only those who see the value in using the road who will pay when they go through the toll stations,” KeNHAsaid.
There will also be special consideration paid to communities along the road, especially where the toll stations will be positioned, who will be exempt from paying tolls while repeat users will be offered discounts.
Other road users who will use the upgrade road for free are military, police and ambulances.
Construction of the road is expected to cost Sh160 billion, which Rift Valley Highway plans to raise through both equity and debt.
The company expects to reach financial close by October this year, and to have raised the amount it expects to invest in the road as equity.
It will also be expected to have brought on board lenders that will give it the amount of money that it cannot raise internally.
Currently, KeNHA said, the lenders are doing due diligence including studies to show that users on the new road would be able to pay enough money to enable the firm recoup its investments over the 26 years it will be operating and maintaining it.
Construction will start later this year or early 2022 and take three-and-a-half years to complete.
Rift Valley Highway with then operate the road for 26.5 years, which will include repairing areas that will be damaged over the period and generally ensuring smooth traffic flow including evacuating victims of road accidents and clearing the scene of accident.
For the other PPP road, the Nairobi Expressway, motorists will pay between Sh310 and Sh1,550 depending on the vehicles.
The charges are based on a number of factors including the distance that motorists will cover on the expressway as well as the size of the vehicle.
The Ministry of Transport in January this year set the base rate for the whole distance between Mlolongo and James Gichuru Road in Westlands at Sh310.
The minimum that motorists can pay will be Sh100 and will only enable them cover short distances such as between Museum Hill and Haile Selassie Avenue.
Saloon cars will pay the base rate of Sh310, with the cost rising based on the weight of the vehicles. Heavy commercial vehicles with four or more axles will pay five times the base rate, Sh1,550 (or Sh57 per kilometre).
If motorists can afford to pay, then they will cover the 27 kilometres in about 15 minutes, a distance that can take over two hours during peak time.
The rates for the use of road currently under construction were gazetted by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia in January, where he also designated the expressway a toll road.
The Rironi-Mau Summit road is a critical transport artery and part of the Northern Transport Corridor, serving an estimated six million Kenyans as well as more people in the neighbourig countries of Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo and South Sudan.
It has also been cited as one of the most dangerous roads with high incidences of accidents, many of them claiming multiple lives.
The upgrade, according to KeNHA, is expected to enable it accommodate increasing traffic in a sustainable manner.
The road will be the second major road project that will be undertaken as a PPP after the Nairobi Expressway, which is expected to be completed in December this year.
The government has recently started reviewing the legal framework governing toll roads to attract more firms to build roads under the PPP model.
Major roads earmarked for tolling include the Nairobi Southern Bypass and Thika Road, which are already completed and in use, and the planned second Nyali bridge that will connect Mombasa Island to the mainland.
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