|A section of the road that is missing an acceleration lane.|
By Standard Reporter
Nairobi,KENYA: The Thika Superhighway completed last year is gradually becoming a tarmacked graveyard.
Design flaws, vandalism and reckless driving are all contributing to make the Sh27 billion infrastructure a certified death trap.
The tragedy on the highway has forced Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) back to the drawing board to seek strategies to stem the road carnage.
The new measures include outsourcing for a single contractor to provide maintenance, security and cleaning of the road.
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“Our drivers seem not to have been prepared for this,” says KeNHA General Manager Samuel Ogege, “Many are not used to this highway. And then there is the issue of education and enforcement.”
Statistics released by the Kenya Police traffic department confirm the worst. Majority of casualties are pedestrians who account for 84 per cent of fatalities on the road.
They are followed by passengers, drivers, bicycle and motorbike cyclists who make up for the remaining 16 per of fatalities.
The deteriorating state of safety on the road is compounded by vandals who have turned the eight lane, 50km stretch into a shopping mall, ripping off everything from electric poles, cables, control boxes to anything that can fetch cash in the scrap metal market.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” says Eng. Ogege, “We need to learn how to value our national assets.”
Adding to the misery is rising crime by muggers who waylay pedestrians especially at night.
Police sources confirm that security on the highway for drivers and pedestrians is wanting.
“Most pedestrians are knocked down while crossing the eight lanes on the superhighway at night rather than use the footbridges, which have been taken over by muggers at night,” says a police source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
KeNHA increased capacity on Thika highway because the volume of vehicles per day is close to 300,000, reveals Ogege. “In the course of increasing the number of lanes, a number of challenges have arisen. They include use of road signs for exit and entry. Some drivers never pick the correct lanes, so you will find a driver is on the extreme right lane then wants to hack and do almost a right angle to get to the exit. Our driving habits are very poor,” he says.
Police also pointed out that careless drivers endanger lives of other motorists. “Take, for instance, the simplest rule of the road: Keep Left,” says Ogege: “You will find that even the slowest vehicles are on lanes that are meant for fast moving vehicles. So people have to keep weaving between lanes.”
The biggest culprits are long-haul trucks that often stay on the right lane on a highway causing vehicles to fall in line behind them.
Ogege says the second challenge facing Thika highway is vandalism of road signs.
Scrap metal dealer
Those roads signs are meant to help drivers navigate the highway, but vandals are hitting them. Signs are being stolen, we are losing guardrails and street light posts. What vandals have done on the road tells you how pathetic the situation is,” Ogege tells The Standard on Saturday.
“We took over the road in July, 2012. Within a span of one year, we have lost assets costing Sh50 million. Who will replace this? he poses.
Despite the ban by Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero on scrap metal, the vandalism has continued.
“The challenge is enforcement,” says Ogege, “the laws we have on scrap metal are not very strong. We are working with the department of industrialisation to see how they can be strengthened.”
Most scrap metal dealers are supposed to inquire where you got the scrap from to ensure it was not stolen. “If somebody brought a guard rail to a scrap metal dealer, why would they buy knowing it was vandalised from the highway?”
Vandals hit lampposts and slice them at the foot with special tools and crush guardrails before they pick them up at night. Manhole covers are looted leading to silt building up on the road drainages that causes flooding. Direction posts and signs are slammed, knocked to the ground and then picked up in the cover of darkness.
Footbridges pose an even bigger challenge. Some are located too far from human traffic. Pedestrians prefer to dangerously run across the road to avoid using them. Currently, in sections where the footbridges have not been constructed KeNHA has placed bumps. “We plan at least 10 footbridges on that road to solve the problem,” Ogege says.
Yet in areas where the footbridges have been constructed, vandals have removed lighting equipment, which makes them fertile ground for muggers. “Muggers have taken over most of the footbridges at night, which explains why so many pedestrians are being knocked down at night,” says a police source.
According to figures released by the traffic department commandant, at least 67 pedestrians have been killed on Thika superhighway this year. Initially, KeNHA had designed concrete walls on the bridges but pedestrians felt insecure forcing the authority to switch to glass footbridges with metal roofs.
Police sources say thugs vandalise the light switchbox to attack pedestrians and motorists in the cover of darkness. Police sources have recommended tamper-proof switchboxes for the lampposts along Thika Road be mounted.