JKIA-Westlands Expressway: The First Step Towards Solving Nairobi’s Traffic Menace?
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 Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority report states traffic jams cost 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?
Cabinet approved the project in 2009, in as much as it dates back to 2001. The project was approved as a Private Public Partnership (PPP) under a 30-year build-operate-transfer deal. The deal allows 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 projectuntil 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, anticipating construction to start in December 2016. China Road and Bridge won the construction contract.
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 will 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 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 at 80kph every hour
At the same time, BRT systems on the expressway will ferry 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 great promise yet a cost. The KSh 59 billion project still remains a question mark stemming from its seamlessness in operations and how other unaccounted for factors will deter its effectiveness. For instance, how will the government leverage on payment systems make sure drivers can pay as fast as possible?
Nevertheless, the toll fees might affect the number of passengers using matatus for commute, pushing people into BRT. At the same time, if BRT delivers its promise on efficient movement, people might as well ditch cars for the buses, cutting down the number of vehicles and therefore reducing traffic.