Why the Thika Superhighway may not be that super after all

It’s highlighted as one of the super projects in Eastern Africa. I heard our neighbouring countries even came to benchmark with us.

We called it the Thika Superhighway, formerly Thika Road. Attempts to give it another name did not succeed. We should give our roads neutral names. Why are some school names changing, getting longer with the addition of a saint’s name? And what happened to super buses (double-deckers) that once plied Thika Road and were rumoured to have two engines?

Nostalgically, I miss Nyayo buses and Stagecoach (Kenya Bus Service).

A decade after its construction, it’s time to revisit the Thika Superhighway, from its design to its economic contribution and need for adjustment. Is superhighway the correct term? How super is superhighway? How is it different from the Nairobi Expressway? 

The highway demonstrated how government intervention can spur economic growth. The dictum in economic growth - “give us roads, water and power. We shall do the rest” - was put to the test on Thika Road. Additionally, a good education and health will help us do the rest.

As a frequent user of the superhighway, I shall share my observations objectively.

One, the superhighway is not so super; the speed limit of 110km is rarely reached. Slow drivers love keeping right.

They are very irritating to those in a hurry or looking for a speed thrill. The designers seem to have ignored the human factor - our behaviour.

Two, there is no emergency contact. Whom do motorists call if they have a problem on the busy highway?

Such contacts should be predominantly displaced. I recall a piece of metal falling from a lorry and hitting my grill recently.

I could have called and warned other drivers. Billboards to warn us of any hazards or snarl-up ahead should be erected, not just adverts. Have the Roads Ministry officials not visited other countries?

Three, this highway behaves abnormally. All the big rivers drain into the sea with a delta.

The Thika Road, if it were super, should behave a like big river. After gathering its cars from tributaries like Kiambu, Outer Ring, Muthaiga and others, the road funnels its cars into an “estuary” at Pangani and then deltas after about 300 metres.

The section of the road looks like a vase. This is the biggest chokepoint on this superhighway, more like the Bab-el-Mandeb strait on the Red Sea. It’s still unclear to me why engineers made this funnel. Was it about land acquisition, carelessness or lack of foresight?

A simple computer simulation can demonstrate how traffic would flow through this “strait.” Why did they make the road behave like the river in its old stage, with meanders and oxbow lakes? The fourth reason why this road is not super is where it leads you, nowhere super! It takes you through crowded Pangani, Mathare, Githurai, and beyond.

The calibre of cars betrays the “superness” of the superhighway- old, new, private, public, and all models.

Conversely, the Nairobi Expressway has more supercars. Check the balances in ETC and you will see the superness. Why is the expressway not called a superhighway? 

Five, the superhighway is not that super because it’s now crowded. Are there plans to expand it, build an expressway on top or even a light rail? The latter, particularly electric, would be the most ideal. It would remove lots of cars from the road.

Think of all the new homes coming up in the former coffee estates near Ruiru like Tatu City, Juja Farm and its environs. Thika Road feels like a river after it rains at its source.

Matatus also make the road not super with their behaviour. They drop passengers on the exit and then return to the superhighway instead of proceeding on the service lane.

I guess this is to avoid the police, who love the service lanes. They also pick up withii (passengers)  on the main highway instead of the service lane, causing traffic jams.

Lighting makes the Thika Road “unsuper” too. Some sections are not lighted. That would make night driving easier and safer. We could see objects on the road. Remember what caused the Concorde to crash?

If you have travelled to other countries like China or the US, comparable superhighways are even banked to allow speeds of over 200km per hour. Comparison with other countries reduces the “superness” of the Thika Superhighway.

The final reason is that except for the expressway, Thika Road has no competition. It’s time we gave it a competitor to dilute its superness and maybe force its improvement.

The Nairobi-Mau Summit dual carriage road is long overdue. It should start with the Naivasha-Nakuru, section which behaves like Thika Road. Traffic is “split” after the dual carriage road ends at Limuru, with trucks going through Mai Mahiu.

They join again at Naivasha, creating a snarl-up to Nakuru, more like the Pangani section of the superhighway.

Some have argued that we don’t need to worry over Thika Road, just make devolution work, and more services and workers will leave Nairobi. Let’s face some truth: Nairobi is unlikely to lose its “coolness” as a place to live or work. We may have to enhance the superness of this highway or give it a competitor. Do you use the superhighway regularly? What’s your experience?

By Willis Oketch 28 mins ago
S. Sudan cargo pile up in Mombasa as agents reject levy
Ndung'u budget could make life worse for Kenyans, experts warn
Premium From Canaan to crisis: The reality of broken promises, economic missteps
Fuel price relief for motorists as tax pain awaits in Finance Bill