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Why Outer Ring road's design is causing challenges ahead of commissioning

By Vincent Achuka | Dec 16th 2017 | 5 min read
By Vincent Achuka | December 16th 2017
Traders go about their businesses oblivious of the dangers at the Huruma-Dandora junction along Outer Ring road in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina.Standard)

Even before it is officially commissioned, the design variations and challenge of constructing a highway in a densely populated area are likely to haunt users of Outer Ring Road.

With a similar design to Thika Superhighway, the 13km stretch of eight lanes of tarmac at its widest end is an engineering marvel and a visual spectacle.

Its combination of overpasses, underpasses and interchanges is expected to cut a two-hour journey from Thika Road to Taj Mall to just under 10 minutes.

However, a drive on the road from Allsops stage on the Thika Superhighway to the Eastern Bypass shows a piece of infrastructure that will pose challenges to motorists and pedestrians once it is commissioned.

Some of the drainage covers are already broken because of human traffic and boda bodas as there are no cycling lanes and the walk ways are few. The road was opened to the public two months ago after most of the works were completed. While it has led to a reduction in travel time between Thika Road and Taj Mall as envisaged in 2015 when construction started, a number of issues are yet to be resolved.

“From my understanding, it hasn’t been commissioned yet but from the much done so far we are happy because of the reduction in traffic jams but there is more to be done like setting up of bus stops,” Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) chair Dickson Mbugua, told the Saturday Standard. “What the Government should do more is sensitisation on how to use the road plus put more signage,” he says.

It appears the engineers, either due to lack of space which was evident during construction or for unknown reasons did not have pedestrians and PSV commuters in mind. For instance, the entire 13km stretch does not even have a foot bridge yet 11 had been planned for in the design. According to the design, the footbridges were supposed to be constructed at GSU, Baba Dogo, Shell- Kariobangi North, Mutindwa, Caltex- Donhoolm, Avenue Park and Tassia.

Pedestrians have to dangerously jump over guard rails and drainage trenches and avoid oncoming traffic while crossing the road.

“The contractor is already planting flowers but he should not leave the site before footbridges are done because people are getting hit here every day,” Brian Waithaka, a trader at Mutindwa says. “You should sit here and see how children from Bidii Primary School struggle to cross. It is not a pleasant sight at all.”

The busy road also lacks bus stops. Just as you leave Allsops stage, PSVs and lorries parked smack in the middle of a roundabout meant to regulate incoming and outgoing traffic are an eye sore. The contractor is on site doing landscaping at the roundabout while mountains of red soil and ugly lorries compete for space.

The same parking problem is witnessed on the stretch from Huruma to Kariobangi roundabout. Both service lanes have been transformed into parking spaces for commercial vehicles. Due to lack of bus stops, matatus have transformed the Kariobangi roundabout into loading zones and this causes a huge traffic snarl up on Juja Road.

At Umoja, traders from Mutindwa market have turned the median into a market. While in Donholm, walk ways have been turned into one big market and a dumping ground.

No cycling lanes

The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) however says this is still work in progress. “We understand the situation of those who want to cross and we have just started working on foundations for the foot bridges,” Kura communication manager John Cheboi,  says.

A spot check by the Saturday Standard revealed that the road doesn’t have sufficient footpaths and there are no cycling lanes. A Government policy in 2013 placed integration of Non Motorised Transport (NMT) as an essential element in public transport.  Since then, all the projects dubbed Missing Link roads constructed after that have sufficient NMT infrastructure apart from Outer Ring road.

“The Project has allowed for a 9m raised central median that will in future serve as the  corridor for Bus Rapid  Transport (BRT) System. For Road Safety, the proposed project has designed 10 foot bridges that will facilitate safe pedestrian crossing,” Africa Development Bank, who have funded 90 per cent of the cost of the project said in an Impact Assessment in 2013.

“Passenger transfer stations have been designed at four locations along the corridor. Street lighting, roadside drains, road furniture and markings have also been designed,” said the bank.

The BRT lanes which would have been exclusively used by high capacity passenger vehicles were however excluded when the second design was done in October 2015 due to ‘site conditions’ according to Kura. This pushed the cost of the project up by 24 per cent to Sh9.2 billion from Sh7.4 billion.

The changes included the reduction of the width of the main carriage way from 9 metres to 7.5 metres and a change from a four leaf clover interchange at Donhoolm to a three leaf clover.

Apart from that Taj Mall was also spared from being demolished due to a legal battle forcing designers to change the road’s design where it joins the Eastern Bypass.

“Taj Mall has a blind corner and if nothing is done we will see a lot of accidents there because the confusion at the junction is evident when you drive there,” observes Mbugua of MWA.

“Yes traffic is flowing better but the final product is very different from what was promised,” Motorist Association of Kenya chair Peter Murima, says.

Murima says that although it is evident the contractor has faced a huge challenge because of the density of the population where the road traverses, it is not acceptable that pedestrians and users of public transport have not been considered at all.  Like at Taj Mall there is no service lane, same to the outbound side of Donholm.

“Public interest should supersede private interest. If your property is standing on the way you need to be compensated at market price and you leave,” he says.

“Where you have space you can do all these things as planned but what is impossible cannot be done. As so long as you have drainage and a footpath, things like cycling paths become luxuries,” responds Cheboi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is set to commission the road soon.

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