Express pain

Express pain

In May, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened the Nairobi Express Way on a trial basis but for some Kenyans, everything about the elevated highway, from its construction to use, is nothing but an enduring nightmare. 

By Victor Adar

Time to break from work and head home is generally a relief for many after a long day’s work. That used to be the case for Edward Wasonga, a technician who works at Simba Corp situated along Mombasa Road. But the good old experience has since changed and turned into something he and his colleagues have to endure, even considering the traffic jam they were used to a few years ago. The cause of his agony is the Nairobi Express Way.

Mr Wasonga, who stays in Fedha Estate along Outering Road, has to walk for nearly three kilometers from his place of work to General Motors to get to the footbridge in order to cross the road before taking public transport home. 

Wasonga laments that this torturous trip, on the wrong side of the road, takes about 15 minutes. And the rainy season makes it even worse since most of the drainage system along the stretch was damaged during construction, leaving pedestrians to dangerously wade through muddy puddles.

A youthful male security guard working at The Tunnel, an entertainment joint located on the ground floor of Pili Trade Centre just at the entrance of the Standard Gauge Railway Nairobi terminus shares a similar story. He laments that passengers using public transport are forced to alight near the entrance of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, precariously cross the road through a tunnel designed for motor vehicles tunnel, before walking for a distance of nearly 6 kilometres to their places of work. 

These are some of the teething problems that have accompanied the opening of the Nairobi Expressway, a 27-kilometer road that stretches from James Gichuru Road in Westlands to Mlolongo in Machakos County. 

When the mega infrastructure project was commissioned on May 14, Transport Cabinet Secretary (CS) James Macharia, praised the new road as ‘long overdue’. After all, the expressway would reduce, in a big way, traffic snarl-ups that define the Nairobi city commute.  

“We are very proud today to come to witness trial of the start of the trial run, which will be done for about three to four weeks,” said Macharia. “We are going to enhance the old road, all the way from Mlolongo to Westlands, to make sure that motorists who do not use the expressway also have a more beautified, enhanced road.”

Construction of the expressway started off in mid-October 2020. Back then, it was clear that all the feeder roads that would be damaged with the understanding that the contractor would restore the pre-existing infrastructure to their former state. But Mr Macharia had a shocker: taxpayers would need to cough up Sh9 billion for that. Already, a petitioner has sued to block the Cabinet Secretary from awarding that tender, arguing, correctly, that the contractor ought to repair the old road at their own cost. 

As the government doles out more billions to rehabilitate the lower road, troubles continue for users of the old road. Most disconcerting are many man-made water falls that are experienced at various points of the road whenever it rains. For some, these not only pose safety concerns to motorists and other road users but also contribute to traffic jams as everyone try to evade them when driving. And often, when motorists are exiting the expressway, it is not uncommon to see traffic jams at exit point as they merge into general traffic.

Understandably, the emerging traffic jams are partly why the road has been commissioned – to identify and subsequently address such arising challenges. But it remains to be seen how this particular problem will be address given that it is the problem the expressway was meant to solve in the first place, and the deplorable state of some sections of the lower road, including reduced lanes.

The question arises: why did it take government planners three years to realise the lower road needs rehabilitating? And why spring a Sh9 billion surprise on the taxpayer when the government had said, at the start of the construction of the expressway, that restoration would be done at the contractor’s cost?

The chair of the National Assembly Transport Committee David Pkosing, is on record saying that after the construction of the expressway is finalised, Mombasa Road would be rehabilitated by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).

“The lower road will revert to its three lanes. There will also be proper lighting and footpaths for pedestrians,” Mr Pkosing said, adding that the changes will eventually reduce traffic jams on the road. 

As the CS and his team take stock, rehabilitation must be expedited without causing further pain to road users. A good starting place would be to open up the expressway for use without charge until rehabilitation is complete. 

Positive impact

While challenges abound, it is worth noting the project has its fair share of both long term and short-term positive impact. So far, Moja Expressway, a division of China Road and Bridge Corporation, has signed up over 11,000 vehicles to use the expressway, with motorists paying a fee of between Sh310 and Sh100, depending on the distance travelled, to use the road. 

If you drive from a toll station in Westlands to Mombasa Road’s Capital Center, for example, you will pay a net amount of Sh180 for what is barely a 10 minutes’ drive.

While there were concerns about the security risks the expressway would on some key pre-existing infrastructure, it is turning out this is not the case. Actually, some proprietors are coming up with creative ways to cope.

Villa Rosa Kempinski, a five-star hotel located in Westlands along the Express Way, is one establishment that has played down concerns of security threats to its premises following the completion of this road project that passes close and overlooks the hotel.

The facility has been attracting international and regional delegates including presidents and celebrities. However, following the construction of the expressway, there have been concerns regarding the proximity of the road to the hotel especially around security.

The hotel, however, says its rooms, including a presidential suite are far from the road and noise, with safety and privacy of clients still maintained. Kempinski director of sales Judy Matengo said the speed limit on the 27km stretch would mean no car or people would slow down enough to pose any potential threat. The hotel, she said, is putting up a bulletproof glass barrier to its road facing swimming pool as an ultimate assurance to customers and peace of mind.

“The expressway works to our advantage. It takes 12 minutes from the airport compared to 45 minutes or one hour due to traffic jam. It’s even safer without the buses and trailers and parking boys snatching phones from guests,” Ms Matengo said in an interview.

The hotel said the construction of the expressway affected its business due to road closure as well as interruption of water supply, electricity and internet. 

“We are happy that this happened during the Covid period. The impact would have been double in normal circumstances,” said Matengo.  

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