It is only in restoring the old roads and getting people to embrace the use of the expressway that the purpose for which the elevated road was built will be achieved
BY DAVID WANJALA
The Nairobi Expressway strides magnificently across the City in the Sun’s landscape from east to west, expressing the republic’s desire to leap into the middle-class economy.
It is no wonder that ecstatic Nairobians have taken to taunting neighbours online in the other East African capital cities by sharing scenic photographs of the 27km road while reminding them that it was not in London or Washington DC but Nairobi.
A little cocky? Yeah, but understandably so.
Besides gobbling billions of borrowed dollars that Kenyans will pay through their noses for many years and the pain, destruction, and disruption to city dwellers, more so, businesses and property owners that its construction occasioned, the Nairobi Expressway has completely altered the City’s outlook.
It has improved its picturesque ambiance. It has, especially riding on its elevated surfaces, revealed the City to its people in a manner that had been hitherto unknown to them. The beauty underneath that is the Westlands suburb. Chiromo’s natural greenery engulfs the University of Nairobi on your right as you emerge into the city centre.
The Uhuru Park wonder on your right and the charisma of Nairobi City’s Central Business District (CBD) on your left as you cut through the City. The close view inside the Nyayo National Stadium on your right as you exit the CBD and the sprawling suburbs of South C and South B on your right and left, respectively, as you cruise towards the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), oblivious of the bumps, jammed up roundabouts, Zebra crossings, human traffic, potholes, and dust beneath you.
As you head towards Mlolongo, the elevated sections of the road past the JKIA will even afford you a glimpse into the world’s only park in a city, the Nairobi National Park on your right-hand side. The 27km stretch of the Nairobi Expressway is a sight to behold.
Ultimately, it has shortened the time it takes to access JKIA across many points in the City. It has eased traffic flow in most areas of the City within its proximity, including Westlands, CBD, Milimani, Upper Hill, Nairobi West, South B, and South C areas. Notably, combined with the southern and eastern bypasses, it has eased the burden of cutting across the City heading towards either Limuru or Thika, respectively, from Mombasa Rd.
However, the expressway is being underutilized at the moment courtesy of, partly, the inherent disinterest in technological advancement synonymous with the developing world’s people who seem to stick to their old ways even when the new ways of doing things present more convenient and cheaper alternatives.
A lot has gone into ensuring convenience and efficiency in using the expressway. There are 11 interchanges at James Gichuru, Westlands, Museum Hill, Haile Selassie Avenue, Capital Centre, Southern Bypass, Eastern Bypass, JKIA, Standard Gauge Railway, and Mlolongo, allowing motorists to pay according to the distance travelled. Multiple payment systems exist, including manual and electronic tolling cards and cash payments. For Manual Tolling Card (MTC), all one needs are a national identity card (ID), a Sh300 installation fee, and a minimum of Sh1,000 in toll points for preload.
Loading the card
On the other hand, for Electronic Tolling Card (ETC), which is fitted on an On-Board Unit, you will be required to produce your ID and the logbook of the vehicle you are registering. You will have to pay Sh1,000 for installation and load the card with a minimum of Sh2,000. If you load your card with Sh5,000 in toll points, you will not pay the Sh1,000 installation service fee. The On-Board Unit reduces the time one takes at entry and exit points since it detects and opens the barrier automatically as the vehicle approaches. The MTC has, however, the advantage of not being tagged on a specific vehicle; therefore, it can be used on more than one vehicle.
Charges for low-capacity vehicles range from Sh120 to Sh360. High-Capacity vehicles, including lorries, pay between Sh600 and Sh1,800.
Despite all this, unsurprisingly, Kenyans have stuck to their old roads, including Waiyaki Way, Uhuru Highway, and Mombasa Rd enduring even worse traffic jams than before the expressway. Why would those with low-capacity vehicles, for instance, stick in traffic on Mombasa Rd between Airtel and City Cabanas for hours on end when the interchange at the Southern Bypass would ferry you in three minutes to City Cabanas at Sh120 for those going to the Airport North Rd? Those heading to Syokimau, Mlolongo, and beyond would pay a maximum of Sh240, depending on where they disembark.
True, it becomes expensive cumulatively for commuters. But, how much fuel does one burn in 45mins for a stretch of three kilometers? This rigidity has led to the expressway being underutilized. It abhors seeing Kenyans squeeze their vehicles on the said stretch of the road every evening of the weekday, creating imaginary lanes and breaking all known traffic rules, knocking each other at times as the expressway lies idle beside them. All this for saving Sh120?
Moja Expressway, the subsidiary of China Road and Bridge Corporation and Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha), will have to do more than make the Nairobi Expressway efficient to get Kenyans to use it. First, and most importantly, they have to invest in public sensitization to win the hearts of the masses in embracing the new road. They need to put the new road’s cost-effectiveness in black and white. People need to understand that they spend more when they stay longer in traffic than they would if they paid toll on the expressway. They should enlighten the masses on the available payment systems and guidelines on the usage of the expressway, including speed limits.
It is the same strategy that the Kenya Railways Corporation must employ to get commuters to embrace the railway system. Kenyans, again, have stuck to their Matatu despite a revamped commuter railway system that offers an efficient, reliable, and affordable alternative.
Secondly, the old roads that run either beneath or besides the expressway, including Waiyaki Way, Uhuru Highway, and Mombasa Road, are in a mess after the construction of the new road. Their lanes were eaten into, and they are also unmarked and rough. They are prone to more traffic jams than before the expressway construction. There is a need, therefore, for Moja Expressway and Kenha to move with speed to reconstruct those roads.
Those three roads will also need a lot of reengineering. Specifically, the roundabout at General Motors (now Isuzu Kenya), where Enterprise Rd joins Mombasa Road, will need to be removed. Let motorists on Enterprise Rd joining Mombasa Rd towards the city centre go to the City Cabanas interchange. Those joining Enterprise Rd from the side of City Cabanas should go to the Southern Bypass interchange at Ole Sereni. That will effectively deal with the heavy traffic jam every weekday between Airtel and General Motors, just like it used to be before the expressway. The roads must also be re-carpeted and all three lanes restored and marked where possible.
It is only in restoring the old roads and getting people to embrace the use of the expressway that the purpose for which the expressway was built will be achieved. As it stands now, it risks suffering the ignominy of the many white elephant projects that bestride Kenya’s landscape.