Kenya's New Expressway: Is it a Road of the Future?

Nairobi JKIA-JG Express Way Design Render. Image Source: KeNHA Project Details
Nairobi JKIA-JG Express Way Design Render. Image Source: KeNHA Project Details
On 16 October 2019, amid fanfare, the usual government confetti and develop-optimistic speeches, and the President of the Republic of Kenya launched the JKIA-James Gichuru Road Express Expressway project in Nairobi, Kenya. The US $ 600m road project is a Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) project governed by a Build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) type of contract.

Build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) is a form of project financing in which a private entity receives full rights from the government or other entity to finance, design, and build a facility. The private entity then owns and operates the facility during the period stated in the concession contract. This enables the project proponent to recover its investment, operating and maintenance expenses during the concession lifetime of the project.

BOOT-type contracts are not common in Kenya. The Public-Private-Partnership Act is fairly recent, having only been enacted in 2013. It will be interesting to see how the Government of Kenya through the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) manages this contract and the pitfalls it portends due to its complex nature.

Curiously, the BOOT period for the new expressway is 30 years. With the advancement of technology, specifically in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as we have seen in recent times, we are knocking on the door of entry into a new world wherein 30 years, everything will be “smart”. We are looking at a world where technologies will be self-conscious, thinking, networked and mobile.

We have an ever-increasing array of inventiveness by way of smartphones, smartwatches, smart cars, and even smart neighborhoods. In 30 years, there is a chance that we may be having AI-driven traffic lights, vehicles, road-toll, and fuel stations and smart roads all around the world. The AI-driven world of 2049 will have roads and highways that are conscious. Roads that have the capability to think, feel and respond to the needs of the traffic that rides on them. Will ownership of the Nairobi JKIA-JG Expressway be transferred to KeNHA at a time when highways, as we know them, are obsolete?
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