Change in design made Outer Ring a dangerous road

Pedestrian at Outer Ring road from Donholm to Taj Mall in Embakasi cross the newly built road in a picture taken on March 26,2018.

For little James* going to school every day is akin to walking under the shadow of death. He has to cross a section of Outer Ring Road at least twice every school day on his way to and from Bidii Primary School in Buru Buru from his home in Umoja Estate.

Because he and thousands of other pedestrians cross the road before traffic police officers report to duty, the near misses is a nightmare for everyone including motorists. But even with the police, the absence of bus stops means the road, which cost the taxpayer an estimated Sh8.5 billion, does little to ease traffic flow – the main reason it was conceptualised.

An engineer involved in the design told The Standard that the original plans have been 'severely' altered to accommodate certain interests, but hugely compromised ease and safety.

“We were told the Government allowed the modifications,” said a safety engineer involved in the design, but who was unwilling to be quoted, citing client confidentiality.

It is not clear why extras like footbridges are yet to be erected despite the daily traffic-related crashes that almost always involve pedestrians getting hit by cyclists and motorists. Conspicuously missing from the original design is a service lane between Taj Mall near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Donholm Estate.

An artistic's impression of the road at Manyanja complete with footbridge. But the reality is that there are no footbridges forcing pedestrians to jump over the guard rails. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Jumping over rails

A T-junction allowing motorists to branch off into Tassia Estate was also expected, but was removed, forcing drivers from Mombasa Road to do three additional kilometres via Donholm roundabout.

Enedy Njoroge uses the road daily and feels the designing engineers should have done a better job, specifically in allowing a turn around the entrance into Tassia. She, however, appreciates that completion of the project has significantly eased the travelling times compared to when the road was single-track.

“We cannot keep jumping over the rail to get across the road, it is really tough for us women,” Ms Njoroge said.

Kenya Urban Roads Authority says construction of 11 footbridges has started, though there is little evidence, except for a few excavations. Heavy equipment used to dig out the excavations where the footbridges would stand have been moved from the sites, presumably due to the ongoing heavy rains – according to the casual workers involved.

But nothing is more puzzling than the fact that Taj Mall remains standing on the shoulders of the road, and conspicuously out of line with other developments. People aware of the original design have on several occasions confirmed the existence of a service lane on either side of the main road throughout the 13 kilometers, including where the mall stands.

Some women are forced to crouch on some section of Outer Ring Road. These are some of the travails of pedestrians when it comes to crossing the road. [File, Standard]

Taj Mall question

Government officials have flip-flopped on whether the property is built on public land amid confirmation that the site had been compulsorily acquired by the State in 1960. National Lands Commission chairman Mohammad Swazuri wrote in the Gazette Notice - the official Government communications record, about the acquisition in January 2016.

It was touted as a brave decision reminiscent of the tough position taken during the construction of Thika Road, where several buildings, including a major supermarket outlet, were knocked down.

Then the changes started. Swazuri first wrote that the mall, now christened AirGate, was sitting on two plots that had been joined to form a new parcel complete with a registration number, but under suspicious circumstances considering the earlier acquisition.

“Amalgamation of L.R.No.7075/13/1 and LR. No. 7075/24 to form L.R. No.209/13938 revoked/cancelled. L.R. No.7075/13/1 which was compulsorily acquired by the Government in 1960 be excised from L.R. No. 209/13938,” he wrote.

Tenants were required to vacate the building immediately after it was condemned following the announcement, and they did. One of the initial plots was genuinely private property, he had said, but was mostly not developed as it accommodated the outside parking lot.

“Title be surrendered for regularisation of the said subdivision and excision LR. No. 7075/24 remains vested in Taj Mall LR. No.7075/13/1 vested in the Nairobi County Government for road expansion,” Swazuri said.

In an interview yesterday, Rameshchandra Govind Gorasia, the Taj Mall owner, laughed off suggestions that his building was illegally built on public land.

“NLC misused my name in their ridiculous claims just to gain prominence,” says Mr Gorasia, who unsuccessfully sought election as Senator for Nairobi in the last General Election.

Gorasia was charged in court over fraud, but later got protection from a higher court.