President Uhuru Kenyatta recently launched the construction of the JKIA-Westlands Expressway after almost a decade of delays. The freeway will connect the Northern and the Southern district through an 18-kilometre two-way four-lane road.
A recent report by the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority states that vehicles stuck in the Nairobi traffic potentially cost Kenya almost $1 billion a year in lost productivity. This, in turn, makes Nairobi the fourth most congested city in the world. Is the JKIA-Expressway the first step to solving the sickening traffic menace?
The project was first fronted in 2001 but it was only in 2009 that it was approved by the Kenyan cabinet. The project was approved as a Private Public Partnership (PPP) under a 30-year build-operate-transfer deal that would allow private firms to invest in the public project and operate it for an agreed period to earn back their investment and profit before handing it over to the State.
The first delay to the project came in 2011 when the World Bank declined to fund the project until the then contractor Strabag complied with its social and environmental safeguards, including land acquisition and Kenyan legal provisions.
In 2016, World Bank finally committed $380 million to the project and it was widely believed that construction would kick of in December of the same year. The project was to be done by China Road and Bridge Corporation.
However, the bank raised further concerns with the project leading it to conduct a fresh round of feasibility studies to ascertain the necessity of the proposed road.
Kenya’s first elevated expressway and toll road
Not only was the project highly ambitious, it was also a first in a number of ways. The road would be Kenya’s first elevated expressway and the first toll road.
A toll road is almost always a controlled-access highway in the present day for which a fee (or toll) is paid for passage. The pricing is typically implemented to help recoup the cost of road construction and maintenance.
According to a Project brief by Kenya National Highways Authority, the highway will connect two international arteries: the Nairobi-Mombasa-Tanzania and the Nairobi-Nakuru-Uganda road. Traffic forecasts from KeNHA expect the project to divert traffic through multiple entries and exits, as well as a BRT system.
- Rising project costs – The initial plans for the expressway expected the construction of the road at a total cost of Ksh 38 billion. However, the final plans approved by the Kenyan cabinet in 2019 allow for construction of the road at KSh 59 billion.
- Will the toll roads work – while the toll road will offer motorists with an option to either use the traffic-laden main roads for free or pay to use the expressway, it remains to be seen if people will actually pay for this. The toll stations also need to provide a fast and easy for motorists to pay to avoid traffic building up at these stations.
- Land acquisition and resettlement – From initial estimates, the project requires approximately 40 acres of land including land of Kenya Railways, Uhuru Park, University of Nairobi and Boulevard Hotel. KeNHA notes that they are still optimizing the road designs to reduce land acquisition.
The government of Kenya has undertaken renewed efforts to decongest the city including plans for a BRT system and rehabilitating of over 150kms of railway tracks.
The expressway therefore will fit well in with the government’s renewed efforts to address the traffic menace.
The busiest interchange “K9” located at Capital Centre, for instance, will host a predicted volume of 44,509 vehicles per day. Moreover, the expressway would allow at least 2000 vehicles to move past this station in every hour, with speeds as high as 80kph.
At the same time, BRT systems on the expressway are expected to move 28,800 people every day, diverting as many as 1518 buses in a day. The project anticipates diverting at least 1300 cars in a day.
The expressway project shows