Kenya’s expressway to infrastructural excellence

Thursday, April 28th, 2022 07:30 | By
An aerial view of Nairobi Expressway. PHOTO/Courtesy

The skyline of Kenya’s capital-Nairobi has now changed as the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)-Westlands expressway launched on October 16, 2020, finally goes to the finishing stage. Those who have not been to Nairobi in a while are bound to be dumbfounded.

The 31 miles (50 km) road is expected to cost $ 599m to build. The expressway aims at expediting the flow of traffic to and from JKIA, over the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD). The construction entails the expansion of the existing road to four one-way lanes, bringing the total number to eight lanes. This infrastructural marvel will also have footpaths, drainage channels, overpass bridges and street lighting.

Arguably, the road is a first in East and Central Africa, with features such as underpasses, overpasses, exits and Bus Rapid Transit covering the entire stretch. Congestion in Nairobi CBD will be eased off and there will be no more delays to the airport. Hundreds of people have missed their flights while stuck in traffic jams as they head to the airport. 

According to a report released in September 2019 by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services, traffic jams in Nairobi are estimated to cost the Kenyan economy $1 billion every year. This translates to about $107,000 per hour. According to the World Bank, Nairobi loses $485,000 in productivity per day through traffic jams. In 2014, Bloomberg placed this waste at about $540,000 every day in terms of fuel and wasted productivity.

Traffic congestion in Nairobi takes place in two ways. First is the regular cycle which Kenyans are accustomed to. This is caused by peak hour traffic, poor infrastructure, accidents and variable traffic speeds on congested roads. It has a direct impact on the profitability of the workforce, who spend an inordinately long time sitting in slow-moving traffic. The latter increases the costs of goods, while car fumes increase the carbon footprint on the environment.

According to a study released by researcher Willem van Waas, Nairobi was the second most congested city in the world in 2018, after Kolkata in India. Growing urbanisation is a global phenomenon. This development has inevitably constrained the infrastructure of many megacities, leading to the search for efficient solutions to improve urban transport systems. The expressway has been integrated with the rest of the city’s transport system in order to ease access to JKIA.  

A lot of credit has gone to road construction firms from China, whose dominance has been attributed to a track record of quality work and expeditious delivery. The company was the lead contractor in the construction of the life-changing $360 million Thika Superhighway in 2006, and the $63.9m project of tarmacking the first phase of a road between Kenya and the Ethiopian border.

Other companies include Sinohydro Construction, and China Communication Construction Company and Shengli Engineering. They have been involved in construction of the Dongo Kundu bypass in Mombasa, as well as Northern, Eastern, and Southern bypasses in Nairobi.

Chinese construction companies are also building capacity of local companies, by creating synergies in the construction value chain. In September, 2018 Nairobi-based Rhombus Construction Company signed a $49 million deal with Chinese equipment manufacturer, SANY Group.

Indeed, Chinese companies have an upper hand in the awarding of tenders by the Kenya Government, particularly due to the pre-qualification status tied to the funding of the projects, and the Chinese companies’ superior technical and financial edge over their competitors. These are undeniable attributes no one can justifiably deny.

In the new Chinese spirit of ‘high speed, high quality’, Kenya is fast becoming China ready. Some of the road arteries form part of the global Belt and Road Initiative, which is going to be an international trade game changer. China has continued to live up to its billing as, not just Kenya’s, but also Africa’s best friend.

— The writer comments on topical issues

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