If Nairobi -Thika Superhighway is anything to go by, then the proposed elevated highway is one project that will place Kenya at a whole new level when it comes to infrastructure. Kenya Engineer looks into the design, investment and public expectations.

Even before the opening of the Sh27-billion Thika Superhighway, the government announced its ambitious plan to decongest Mombasa Road via an elevated highway running on top of the now existing Mombasa Road-Uhuru Highway-Waiyaki Way
The artistic impressions of the proposed highway classified as A109, were unveiled last month and like in the case of Thika Road, major roundabouts on Mombasa Road will be a thing of the past. This is the latest plan by government through Kenya National Highway Authority, to improve roads infrastructure.

This project will help reduce traffic snull ups right from the Junction of Airport north road and Mombasa road, at the Nyayo Stadium Roundabout and Uhuru Highway all the way to Waiyaki Way. In a stretch that one should take less than ten minutes, motorists would spend close to three hours, maneuvering their way through the infamous traffic snarl-ups.

After the completion the project will ease the flow of traffic from Likoni Road to the James Gichuru Interchange. The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) Director General Meshack Kidenda said the construction is scheduled to begin in 2013, a development that is estimated to last not more than two years. “The section we are working on is 12 kilometers between St James Hospital (near the Airtel Headquarters) and James Gichuru (directly opposite Kabete Barracks), building an elevated road or flyover. We will replace all the roundabouts as well,” he said.

This, the engineer said would be the solution to traffic snarl-ups being experienced in the capital. Other improvements include installation of proper pedestrian pavements, service roads and a modern storm water drainage system.

 In addition, the design will also include a bus rapid transit lane to streamline the flow of public service vehicles on the highway. “Bus rapid transit is a concept where you use high capacity buses that carry around 200 people in a dedicated lane so they have the right of way. They are programmed and timed to boost their reliability,” he said in an interview. The project, funded by the government and the World Bank, is part of Highway authority’s larger plan to improve the thoroughfare from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Rironi.

COWI, the consulting firm and its local partner Otieno Odongo and Partners were commissioned by the Kenya National Highways Authority to design the expansion of the Likoni Road Junction to James Gichuru Road Junction on the A104 – a highway stretch. The assignment involves capacity improvement of the existing two to three lane dual carriageway by design of additional lanes and grade-separated intersections in the form of flyovers and elevated road sections.

The designs as proposed by the consultants will see the demolition of Nyayo Stadium and Westlands Roundabouts. The overpass will begin from the Popo and Kapiti Road junctions where traffic on the highway always picks up. This overpass will go all the way to James Gichuru in Westlands.

Analysing Designs and Estimated Cost
The designs by Danish firm COWI are at the consultative phase involving local stakeholders who have been called upon to give suggestions that will lead to long term solutions.

One of the challenges for COWI’s design team is to come up with an aesthetical solution that respects the need for increased traffic capacity as well as the pristine surroundings.  This means that the design only restricts itself to road reserves without acquisition of private property. To ensure this happens the design proposes special links from surrounding estates into the highway. For example motorists from South B will join the highway via a diamond ramp while South C will have a quarter link positioned behind the estate.

Langata and Upper hill roads will also be affected. Here the design proposes that Langata Road be linked to Lusaka Road in Industrial Area, via an overpass while Upperhill be linked to Bunyala Road via a different overpass. The Bunyala road roundabout will also be demolished and replaced by an interchange to allow motorists from Upperhill to access the highway.

“In the design phase, COWI not only considers the city’s surroundings but traffic simulations and analyses will also be used in order to ensure that the city’s traffic congestions will in fact be significantly reduced with the expansion of the highway,” said Anja Basilio Fabech of COWI.

On reaching the City Centre, the design proposes demolition of Haile Selassie roundabout and have the elevated highway run through to Westlands past University Way Roundabout.

The initial estimate of the project is placed at $200 million approximately KSh16 Billion and will be funded by the Kenyan government and the World Bank. If everything goes as planned then the country will be ready to use the road by 2015. Thisfunding by World Bank affirms statements by Makhtar Diop (the bank’s new vice president for Africa) who said; “The World Bank will prioritize funding support for Kenya in roads construction, energy, implementation of the new constitution as well as reforms in the justice system,”

Public Response and Expectations
The business community says the unlocking or opening up of the Mombasa Road through Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way will impact positively on cross-border trade, especially with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, goods being transported to these countries from the Port of Mombasa take over a month to reach its destination. This is three weeks more than the desired duration of six days if the goods are ferried by rail. Due to multiple road hitches, even those goods transported to Tororo take over two weeks, a move that has been exacerbated by the rising non-tariff barriers, frequent accidents and unreliability of Kenya’s transport system.

Betty Maina, the chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers says businesses are choking even more with the sorry-state of the country’s roads which is occasioned by numerous accidents, police roadblocks, cargo thefts on the highways and heavy traffic jams in Mombasa and Nairobi especially on the northern corridor – Mombasa road. The association says road transport is one of the mediums through which non-tariff barriers continue to hinder business growth.
Analysts say with these challenges, the much-anticipated appreciation of cross-border business in East Africa that would have come with the realization of the Common Market Protocol is unlikely to be achieved.

Transport challenges also manifests itself in the cost aspect of it where to ferry a 20-tonne container from Mombasa to Nairobi costs $1,300. A similar container from Mombasa to Kampala and Kigali costs $3,400 and $6,500 respectively. This is more than double the $1,200 one would incur to ship the same goods from United Kingdom to Mombasa. Integration experts say transport costs of high proportion of the value of goods result in an increase of consumer prices for imported goods, and undermine the competitiveness of exports in foreign markets.  This limits a country’s participation in international trade.

“With the development to modernize the Uhuru Highway, it is indeed a development that will impact hugely on manufacturers, not only in Kenya but across East Africa. It is our hope that the developers will move with speed so that the returns from such an investment trickles down to people and the entire economy,” Ms Maina said.

According to Roads Minister Franklin Bett the government had set aside Sh63 billion for roads project next year. The fund will see three bypasses built and special overpass on Uhuru Highway built.

“We are building three bypasses that will form one big ring around Nairobi. We are also set to build the Nairobi Urban Toll road that will start from the Machakos turn off to join Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki way via an over-pass,” said Mr. Bett.
He said the by-pass over Uhuru Highway — the first of its kind in the country — would be a dual carriageway, terminating at Westlands.

According to Road’s Permanent Secretary Michael Kamau, the country is seeking Sh24 billion for the urban transport improvement programme, which includes money for construction of the Nairobi flyover that connects Mombasa road to Westlands, studies on the Bus Rapid Transit project, Meru bypass, studies on light rail network by Kenya Railways and the improvement of the airport – Rironi road, Nairobi.

In the just released budget, Treasury set aside Sh268.1 billion for infrastructural development. Roads budget was upped to Sh123.6 billion from last year’s Sh104.3 billion. This is a relief for the ministry of transport whose minister is optimistic that all projects will kick off as scheduled.

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