Expressway: road that divides nairobi’s rich and poor

10 minutes

Mombasa Road is a pain for its users. The road was left in a dilapidated state after the completion of the Nairobi Expressway, whose construction phase saw the contractors dig up not just segments of Mombasa Road but also Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way.

Now, users have to grapple with uneven road surfaces and boulders left in the middle of the road. There are no pedestrian and cyclist lanes.

There are no footbridges for most sections of the road and to cross the road, pedestrians have at times to walk long distances. This is the case for pedestrians who have tried to cross both Mombasa Road and the Expressway over the distance between Bellevue at South B and the Mombasa Road-Enterprise Road Junction at General Motors, where there are no footbridges in between. It is not the only segment that is not served by footbridges.

Pedestrians also have to do with mounds of soil on what used to be a walkway dumped by the contractor when constructing the Expressway.

Had the state lived up to its promise, commuting on Mombasa Road would be a lot less stressful. Not exactly the bliss that it is in the Expressway but nothing near the chaos that road users have to endure.

There were promises of pedestrian walkways, decent matatu stops and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) facilities, but these appear to have amounted to the false promises that Kenyans so often fall for from their leaders.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in his last rites in office was said to have contracted China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) to rehabilitate the old road at the cost of Sh9 billion but the contractor seems to have stalled with minor repairs.

Describing the plans that the government had for the lower deck road, the then Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, made it sound like it would be something to marvel at. Or at the very least a much better version of the road than the one CRBC found before uprooting it up and leaving Nairobi motorists with an eyesore of a road that is causing dozens of accidents, some of them fatal.

“We are going to enhance the old road – from Mlolongo to Westlands – to make sure that motorists who do not use the Expressway also have a more dignified road,” he said during a final inspection of the road before its commissioning. He added that CRBC, which is responsible for the damage to old Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way, had been handed the Sh9 billion contract to rehabilitate these old roads.

This was not subjected to a competitive tender process.

“We are finalising a contract of about Sh9 billion to make sure we enhance and beautify the old road. We shall be doing drainage systems, lighting and re-carpet the old road to ensure that all of us, whether driving up there or down there, have enhanced comfort on this particular corridor.”

The lower decker roads suffered damage where, for instance, some of the lanes had been dug to enable the contractor to undertake works on the expressway. CRBC was expected to cover the cost of the repair works after completing the construction of the new road.

Macharia said as much in his last months in office, explaining that the Sh9 billion would be used to put up new facilities that did not exist on the old roads such as the BRT, and pedestrian and cyclist lanes while CRBC mended the roads damaged during construction of the Expressway at its own cost.

“The work that will be done as a result of damage that occurred when building the expressway, the contractor of course takes accountability,” Macharia said then.

“The other expenditure will be to enhance the old road. We will be putting up a BRT system that is in addition to what was there before. We will also be doing cycling lanes, pedestrian walkways… these are additional investments, which the government will bear.”

The Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) in the months before the commissioning of the Expressway said the commissioning of the new road was pegged on the completion of repair of the old roads.

This however did not happen.

Walking or driving down Mombasa Road shows shoddy patch-ups of the old road while pedestrian walkways are non-existent.

And just as pedestrians have had issues with the lack of pedestrian walkways, so do motorists and other road users that include Boda Boda operators.

When you talk to some road users, the feeling is that the Expressway was built to make it faster for the wealthy from Nairobi’s blue diplomatic zone in Gigiri and other leafy suburbs of the city to get to the airport.

One motorist describes the lower deck roads as death traps for many of their users, noting that the many accidents, incidents and even snarls ups are caused by the failure of the government to rehabilitate the old Mombasa Road.

“Vehicle lanes are confusing… sometimes ending abruptly into the chicken wire fence constructed along the Expressway. There are gaping ditches at either side of the old roads abandoned mid-construction and potholes glossed over by a thin layer of bitumen in some sections,” said one motorist.

“At General Motors [now Isuzu Motors], a poorly thought-out roundabout has turned into a traffic nightmare under a footbridge, the only crossing from Bellevue, some five kilometres away that ducks dangerously under the Expressway.”

At Syokimau, the road is chaotic, the Expressway spills into Mombasa Road, and Mombasa Road spills onto the two-way service lane and it is everyone’s guess where everyone is going.

Ombuda, a Boda Boda rider and his colleagues are not welcome on the double-decker road and so are matatus and cyclists who see the road as a barrier that has made it difficult to cross Mombasa Road.

“You see this expressway, if you take your small car there and you run out of fuel, they will tow your small car and charge you fines,” Ombuda, a Boda Boda says of the last of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s expensive infrastructure projects.

On the old Mombasa Road that Ombuda relies on for his daily keep, ferrying passengers from point to point, he describes the dance of death he has to do every day.

“As a rider, you have to avoid the menacing trucks and matatus that keep changing lanes because the road is still damaged and some lanes end abruptly. While it is unsettling for me, it is worse for our pillion passengers. When it rains, the traffic is worse because pedestrians on the sidewalks spill onto the road as they do not have usable pedestrian lanes,” he said.

For him, the new road is too expensive, constructed for Sh3.27 billion a kilometre (Sh88 billion in total) and the only possible interaction with it is the threat of a fine even though he does not use it.

CRBC, through its affiliate Moja Expressway, will operate the road for 27 years during which it will charge toll fees to recover its investments. Users pay between Sh120 and Sh1,800 to use the road depending on the size of their vehicles and the distance they will cover.

Motorists using saloon cars pay Sh360 for the full length from Mlolongo and James Gichuru Road in Westlands, which is taken as the base rate. Heavy commercial vehicles with four or more axles pay the highest at Sh1,800 (or five times the base rate) to use the entire 27.1 kilometres.

Ambulances, police and military vehicles are exempt from paying the road toll. Boda Bodas and tuk-tuks are not allowed on the road.

This will translate to billions of shillings in profit at the end of the 27 years.

The Transport Ministry has in past submissions to Parliament said the road will generate Sh302 billion over 27 years. Of this amount, CRBC is estimated to make Sh106 billion (or Sh3.7 billion per year) after the initial investment and the operational costs are deducted from the revenues. At Sh3.7 billion, in what can be looked at as profits, the money would be much more than the majority of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) listed firms report as profits.

A report by the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (Namata) estimated that traffic jams in the city cost the economy some Sh100 billion a year through wasted man hours and fuel.

To ease congestion on roads, the Jubilee Administration felt that building new roads and tolling them would partly help.

“So much is being wasted on the road in terms of traffic jams and this will be a thing of the past, this road (the Nairobi Expressway) will partly address these issues,” said Macharia, perhaps in justifying the Expressway that only serves a fraction of Nairobi residents.

The thinking of the new administration does not appear to be any different. The new CS for Transport Kipchumba Murkomen appears keen to bring on board more private sector players to manage public roads and introduce tolling.

While appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Appointments as a CS nominee, Murkomen said he would seek out private firms to improve taxpayer-funded roads and start charging toll fees. He argued that tolling does not increase the cost of motoring but saved motorists money, thinking that could be challenged by many taxpayers who expect a return on the taxes paid.

“Tolling is not an extra charge, it is a saving. If you look at the Expressway, you will find that it takes a shorter time to move over the 27 kilometres, meaning that you saved time, time that sometimes would be three hours,” he said

“The cost of staying on Mombasa Road for three hours will come to a certain figure when it is reduced to 20 minutes. You (also) save a lot on fuel.”

This appears to mean that instead of working on reducing traffic on roads, the former Elgeyo Marakwet Senator would rather have roads for the wealthy such as the Nairobi Expressway while the rest of Kenyans suffered hours in traffic jams in the likes of the old Mombasa Road.

“We should be able to identify high-density roads and then put in place a tolling policy with a fee that is commensurate with the savings that motorists will make. If you take the road to Malaba, I would propose that we attract investors – with priority on local investors, dual the road and get people to pay toll,” he said.

“If today you are going to Ongata Rongai in the outskirts of Nairobi during peak hours, you will take three hours… you have lost time and spent resources on fuel that if quantified would at the very least be Sh500. Let us dual the road, toll it and instead of spending Sh500 on fuel as well as time, pay a toll of about Sh200. Tolling roads is not an extra charge, it is saving.”

Hefty penalties

The Expressway also slaps motorists with very high fines for minor infractions, including what could qualify as wear and tear such as scratching the pavement which would set you back Sh2,362.

Hitting a guardrail would cost a motorist Sh45,348.

Causing damage to a vehicle scanner will cost you Sh2.4 million while damaging the cantilever variable information board will have to pay a fine of Sh8.8 million.

Support MtaaSkika.

Fund independent journalism.