Expressway of pain: Kenyans pay the price for Nairobi's new swanky road


Traffic jam along Kenyatta avenue below the Nairobi Expressway along Uhuru Highway Nairobi on January 20, 2022.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]


Anger, resentment, despair and frustration are perhaps a few of the many words that might capture the feelings of motorists travelling between Mlolongo in Machakos County and James Gichuru Road in Nairobi’s Westlands. 

The current state of the lower deck road, which covers Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way, is perhaps what could be termed collateral damage of the yet-to-be-commissioned suave Nairobi Expressway.

On the three roads, entire lanes have disappeared and the roads are badly damaged with deep excavations left unattended and without signage to warn road users that they might easily plunge into deadly ditches.

Pedestrian walkways and cyclist lanes are characterised by heaps of earth that turn into mud whenever it rains, rendering them unusable.

Without these, non-motorised road users are left to jostle with cars on the crammed roads.

The level of neglect of the old roads is captured in a viral video doing the rounds on social media of stormwater from the expressway dangerously draining onto the road below. Woe unto you if the water hits your windscreen at top speed.

The horrors on the old roads will be lost on those using the 27km expressway as they cruise down the new road lined up with dew-draped flowers and a breathtaking view of the city’s skyline in the background.

Fears abound that with the expressway nearing completion and the earthmovers being driven off from the construction site, the old roads might be left in their current state.

Mombasa Road, for instance, may no longer have three lanes in some sections, while some of the crossing points for pedestrians, including footbridges, have been done away with altogether.   

The Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) has assured that the roads will be repaired before the expressway becomes operational and that the new road’s commissioning is pegged on the rehabilitation of the old roads.

“The expressway is not yet complete. However, restoration of Mombasa Road (A8), is also going on in parallel,” said Kenha, responding to a query by Financial Standard on the progress made so far in rehabilitating the old roads.

“The opening of the Expressway is pegged on the restoration of Mombasa Road,” added the roads agency. Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia has in past media interviews also given the same assurance, saying if anything, he expects them to be left in a better state than they were before.

The restoration of the old roads, the Ministry has insisted, is part of the contract that the government signed with China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the contractor of the project. Many are, however, not convinced that this will happen.

Motorists Association of Kenya Chairman Mr Peter Murima said going by the experiences during the construction phase as well as the piecemeal repairs being undertaken on the old roads, taxpayers have not gotten their money’s worth.

“The public has been short-changed so far. They (Kenha) have assured that before they commission the expressway, they will rehabilitate the road to public satisfaction. We are, however, concerned that this might not happen, and we are evaluating our options, including the legal action,” he said.

“The (Mombasa) road itself used to be okay… it could have done with some improvements to ease congestion, but what we now have is a road where certain segments have been excised. They should rebuild, not just repair.”

Despite the State’s assurances, the documents that CRBC lodged with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) before securing approvals for the project do not have a road map for the rehabilitation of the old roads.

Southern Bypass toll station at the Nairobi Expressway along Uhuru Highway, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Programme Manager at Natural Justice Mark Odaga noted that the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) that the firm used to get the environmental approvals did not address the issues of rehabilitating the roads at the lower level.

Mitigation measures

“The challenges being faced are symptomatic of an environmental impact assessment process that was not adequate,” said Mr Odaga.

“The challenges (being experienced) speak to the need for adequate ESIA study reports, which adequately identify potential impacts and provide adequate mitigation measures. Ideally, the ESIA should have contained a detailed rehabilitation plan that addressed issues that are now coming up.”

However, all is not lost, according to Mr Odaga as there are options to compel CRBC and the government to restore the roads.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) can order the restoration of not just the roads but also other aspects that were affected during the construction of the new road.

The environmental watchdog has already demanded the planting of about 3,000 seedlings to replace about 2,500 trees that were cut down during the development phase.

“One avenue that could be pursued is to require NEMA to issue an environmental restoration order, requiring the restoration of the old road to its previous state,” said Mr Odaga.

“Such an order could be issued with conditions as to timelines and specific conditions to ensure that the old road is reinstated to its previous condition.”

Motorists Association of Kenya’s Mr Murima cited numerous downsides of the new road, including taking up the corridor for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. While the government has in the past said there are still plans to incorporate the BRT system, he said the design of the expressway makes it untenable.

“The central median that has been taken by the elevated road has taken up the space for BRT as well as interfered with provision for pedestrians and cyclists on the other road,” said Mr Murima, adding that the investors should have acquired separate land to put up the expressway.

Lacklustre approach

“When you have a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) arrangement, the private entity acquires private land to build the private investment. They took public space and interfered with what is a major gateway not just for Kenya but also the Great Lakes region.”

He also sees malice in the lacklustre approach to the rehabilitation of Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way, arguing that “they want to make the road so difficult to drive on so that motorists opt to go up there (expressway) and pay the toll fee.”

CRBC has developed the road through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model, whereby it designed, arranged for financing and constructed the road.

In turn, the company will operate the road for 27 years, during which it will charge motorists using the road, with the money going into repairs and other maintenance costs as well as recouping its investments. It recently formed Moja Expressway that will operate the road, including toll collections.

CRBC had expected to spend Sh60 billion on the construction of the road, but this has since been varied to Sh88 billion.

The Transport Ministry has in past submissions to Parliament said the road will generate Sh302 billion over the 27 years.

CRBC is estimated to make Sh106 billion (or Sh3.7 billion per year) when the initial investment and the operational costs are deducted from the revenues.

Motorists will pay between Sh120 and Sh1,800 to use the road, depending on the distance travelled and the size of their vehicles.

Ambulances, police and military vehicles will be exempt from paying the road toll.

Boda bodas and tuk-tuks will not be allowed on the road. The Transport Ministry has set the base rate for the whole distance between Mlolongo and James Gichuru Road in Westlands at Sh360.

The minimum that motorists can pay will be Sh120 for short distances such as between Museum Hill and Haile Selassie Avenue.