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New contractual terms for firms have improved the quality of our roads

By James Gatitu | November 25th 2018
Eng James Njuguna gatitu

Recently, a friend called me while travelling to Eldoret. He had been in Mombasa for a while and had flown to Nairobi before taking a shuttle to Eldoret.

He could not help but marvel at how clean the roads and the road carriages looked since the last time he was on one of the country’s major highways.

The secret behind this transformation is that as the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), we have embraced a new concept called Performance-based Road Maintenance. This is a concept initially developed and proposed by the World Bank (WB) in 2002.

Through this system, the WB sought to roll out projects whose performance sustainability would be assured throughout the project’s lifecycle.

The contracts proposed by the WB differed substantially from the traditional contracts for civil works.

The basic difference is that under the previous system, most of the payments to be made to the contractor were not based on quantities of works measured by unit prices for works inputs but on measured outputs, reflecting the target conditions of the roads under contract.

Pilot basis

In other words, contractors were paid for what the roads are supposed to look like. 

Another major difference is that the contractor is fully responsible for the design of the works which are necessary to reach the required service levels and the durability and performance of the roads over a longer period of time.

Taking lessons from the global lender, Kenya introduced these performance-based contracts first on a pilot basis where four contracts were procured for three roads.

These were the Lanet-Njoro Turnoff Road, the Kisii-Kilgoris Road and the Tana River-Modika Road.

The objective of this trial was to examine if the maintenance system employed in a service level setting, service level achievements and service level monitoring can occur within the country’s maintenance system.

From the observations of the pilot projects, KeNHA in collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Highways and Building Technology established that there was a key importance to having the contractors gain the technical skills. So all the changes you see on the roads, all the cleared edges and the clean carriageway are a result of concerted efforts between the road authorities, the contractors and diligent workers who have embraced the concept.

From this, we have also learnt our lessons. First, the time lost between the execution of maintenance works on a particular road to the subsequent clogging of drains and overgrowing vegetation that result in the general deterioration of the carriageway also raises road safety issues such as poor visibility.

These interventions ensure a continuous maintenance of the roads because the new contracting methods ensure management and maintenance of the road network under contract is always ongoing.

With this, our roads have finally been freed from bushes, shrubs and undergrowth that encroach on road reserves, thus boosting safety.

For drivers, this cleared hedges greatly increase the distance between vehicles, helping them avoid dangerous overtaking which has been a major cause of accidents. The new system also ensures that there is continuous monitoring of developments along the road corridor and thus help in checking encroachment through continuous inspection of roads. Emergency services are also reaping the benefits of cleaner roads and clearer carriageways.

Because the roads are now clear with minimal undergrowth, access to roadside accidents and subsequent clearing of the scenes is much faster. Because of this, emergency medical services response times are also faster.

Contractors too benefit from this new system. They are now assured of a constant supply of funds, a factor that enables them to plan their operations and think about future growth unlike previously where funds would be staggered and paid out in no particular order.

To sum it up, the future of a near-perfectly maintained road system does not lie in traditional contracts, but rather on new innovative agreements that have the road user experience at heart.

The writer is the Road Asset and Corridor Management director at KeNHA.  

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