Road users’ wasted outrage over Nairobi Expressway disruptions

Traffic on a section of the Nairobi expressway in Westlands along Waiyaki Way under construction. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

After the devastation caused by El Nino weather phenomenon in the mid-nineties, the government embarked on an upgrade of transport infrastructure. Lang’ata Road was one of the beneficiaries.

While road users were hopeful that their commute would be faster and smoother after the upgrade, they were also unhappy because of the number of hours they had to spend in traffic due to road closures and diversions.

The resulting frustration and anger is not any different from that of road users on Waiyaki Way and Mombasa Road where snarl-ups and gridlocks are experienced daily due to the ongoing construction of the Nairobi Expressway.

Despite being an artery to established businesses, and even one of the largest sports grounds in the country, Lang’ata Road was only slightly bigger than a footpath. 

Its width had been constricted further by semi-permanent business premises erected by the road side, and whose owners had no intention of giving way.

During the upgrading works to turn Lang’ata Road into a dual carriageway, traffic flow on the adjoining roads used to be disrupted just like is currently happening to access roads to and from Waiyaki Way and Mombasa Road. Thus, even then, there was outrage and Kenyans were disgruntled just as they are now.

They said the upgrade was just one of the government’s anti-poor projects meant to deny the downtrodden their daily bread since their businesses were being demolished to make way for the rich.

In some instances, businesses were closed down without any compensation because they were operating on road reserves.

When Thika Highway was being built, the disruption of businesses and lives was massive. The gridlocks and snarl-ups were frustrating and hugely inconvenient since there was never any proper communication to enable road users plan their trips.

Some families moved from residential areas along Thika Road because they could not cope with the daily annoyance.

Ideally, there is no infrastructure upgrade that does not cause disruptions anywhere in Kenya, but it gets worse in Nairobi because the haphazard construction of all sorts of structures on access routes has been the order of the day over the years.

They are on every available public space, and when one road is blocked, traffic flow is disrupted on more than half the city roads.

That is why it is pointless to get annoyed over the road closures, the gridlocks and snarl-ups on Waiyaki Way and Mombasa Road due to the expressway because Nairobi’s motorists are also a different breed.

Nairobi’s drivers have little regard for rules — so, no matter how wide the road is, as long as the mind behind the wheel is narrow, traffic jams have to be there.

Stop construction

Of course there are other reasons why Nairobians, and generally Kenyans, feel the expressway is misplaced. But that is now beyond them because stopping the construction, through any means, will not lead to clearer roads or less traffic and neither will the monies already committed to building the behemoth structure be recovered.

As a matter of fact, the lenders will still demand their money back, and taxpayers will have to pay it.

This is not to say that Kenyans cannot express their feelings, but truth be said, there is very little that will be gained by the daily explosions of anger over the traffic flow disruptions. It is safe to say that the only time the expressway could have been stopped from snaking its way through the city, and causing the collective heartaches and break-ups, was before construction started.

Now that this was not done, Nairobians will have to get used to the disruptions, and plan their lives around the earth movers and gigantic concrete structures that have been sunk deep into the earth as it to signify that they aren’t moving anywhere.

Also, even if the construction of the expressway had been agreed upon amicably by the State and Kenyans under fair terms, road closures and general inconvenience would still have been experienced.

That written, there is nothing wrong with getting angry at an administration that has perfected the art of moving from one economic disaster to another corruption scandal, and whose sworn duty is adding a burden on Kenyans’ backs every minute of the day and night.

However, at times, when the chips are down, it is better to admit so in order to live and fight another day.

The energy being expended over the disruption of traffic flow will be needed when looking for money to repay the loan used to build the expressway — or money to pay toll fees in order to use it.

Yes, Kenyans are in for a rough ride over and on the smooth expressway!