Expressway fun masks death trap for road users beneath it

A section of Mombasa Road. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

It is a Wednesday evening in Nairobi, around 6:30pm, along Waiyaki-Way, and motorists are in a hurry to exit the city centre. At a temporary U-turn directly opposite Kempinski Hotel a traffic jam is building up; an unusual sight, considering the fact that during such hours roads to the city centre are clear.

When we join the same U-turn, it dawns on us that at the spot, motorists are forced to drive at snail speed to avoid a rugged section of the road.

Behind the hotel’s low fence, a security guard inches closer as we pull to the side to monitor the situation. He seems happy upon noticing that our focus is on a dilapidated old road. About a 50-metre stretch just after the U-turn on a once smooth road is now rugged with a wide alley at the centre, forcing motorists to squeeze on one side.

A security guard informs us that it was at that spot that a private vehicle headed to Nairobi from Nakuru recently veered off the road nearly landing in a ditch on the last Sunday of May.

The guard narrated that one of the vehicle’s rear wheels came in contact with a sharp edge of the rocky part of the road, forcing the driver to swerve after he almost lost control of the car.

The incident paints a near-death experience that motorists using the old road go through daily.

The once smooth road was exposed during construction of the multibillion shillings’ expressway that motorists pay to use.

A survey by The Standard on the section of the road from Kempinski hotel U-turn all the way to Mlolongo paints a miserable picture of how construction of the expressway left the underneath road in bad shape.

While the expressway is clearly marked and well lit, the old road is the opposite; without proper signage, huge rough and uneven patches, and gaping potholes that collect water whenever it rains.

“Before the expressway was constructed, the road below was smooth, with everything in order. At the moment, one must be careful when driving, mostly during evening and night hours,” a motorist Mr Daniel Mwanzo told The Standard.

Mr Martin Keya, who uses the road from Westlands to City Cabanas often, says: “It is not easy, especially for new drivers on the road. Some sections are not clearly marked, no proper signage for motorists and in some areas pedestrians cross the road in undesignated areas,” he says.

In mid-May, the government said it would enhance the old road, from Mlolongo to Westlands. “We are finalising a contract of Sh9 billion to make sure we beautify the old road. It makes sense to have the contractor who was doing the expressway rehabilitate the old road,” Transport CS Mr James Macharia said.

The most affected lane along the once smooth dual road is the one heading to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), with some areas susceptible to traffic buildups as motorists evade potholes and depressions.

Travel time

This has also increased the travel time from Museum Hill roundabout to JKIA and past Mlolongo for more than one and half hours.

At the Utalii House bend, there is a huge pothole that is not visible in the dark. It is a death trap for motorists who notice it too late while speeding.

The once smooth Uhuru Highway, between Kobil roundabout to Bunyala road was left with irregular patches on the inner lane and another huge pothole after Nyayo Stadium as you head to the city centre.

Around Imara Daima Total petrol station, there is an unfriendly rutted stretch and pedestrians crossing on undesignated areas, forcing motorists to slow down.

About two kilometres stretch from Highway Mall towards Mlolongo, the road is unmarked, thus exposing motorists to the service lane. Towards the last stretch to Mlolongo expressway station, the old road is dilapidated and frequently causes huge traffic. On the spot, the tarmac was exposed, leaving a section of the road with loose chippings.

As one drives back to the city centre from Mlolongo, an overpass around Syokimau station covers another deathtrap. Under the bridge, a huge pothole on the service lane forces motorists on one lane and at the Eastern bypass entrance station, causing traffic as motorists slow down due to uneven depressions on the lane towards the city centre for about 200m.

At the General Motors underpass several concrete barriers used to block the U-turn are still lying nearby.

Away from the dead ends, sections of the old road are impassable when it rains, since the system that drained such water before is yet to be redesigned. Maintenance of the road falls under Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA).

When sought for comment, the Authority said there was an ongoing restoration of the damaged section of the underneath stretch during the construction of the expressway dubbed A8.

The repairs are being carried out by Moja Expressway and are expected to be done by the end of June 2022.

The works include reinstatement of removed lanes, punctured pavements at pier construction locations to be repaired. Realigned sections are also to be fully reconstructed. “The repairs include strengthening of sections that were damaged during construction of expressway and Restoration and paving of sidewalks,” said Mr Samwel Kumba, the authority’s Deputy Director of Communications.

On the section where footbridges were demolished, KeNHA said six new footbridges would be constructed to allow pedestrians cross safely. The  cost will be footed by the expressway contractor.

“The footbridges will be built between Syokimau and Mlolongo, Subaru Kenya and others between Brookside Drive to All Africa Church of Nations,” said Mr Kumba.

Other repairs include fixing of drainage channels and enhancement of capacity at major outfalls at JKIA and Imara Daima.

Nairobi Traffic commandant Mr Joshua Omukata said the current situation would not last.

“It is much better than when the expressway was being constructed. At the moment, the old road is being repaired. We urge motorists to be patient,” said Mr Omukata

The old road’s condition is a contrast of the 27.1-kilometre overpass built at a cost of Sh88 billion.

The construction of the road is expected to save travellers time between Mlolongo and Westlands. On the expressway, it takes one about 15 minutes from the airport to Westlands.