The Nairobi Expressway is Transforming the Capital's Skyline

The Nairobi Expressway is Transforming the Capital's Skyline

Nairobi is renowned for its mix of historic and modern architecture to create a skyline that is dynamic and awe-inspiring.

Head up to any top building along Uhuru Highway and you will see with a clear view the now almost complete Nairobi Expressway, which has, in less than two years, changed the look of the capital city.

Nairobi was created out of a series of small villages that morphed into a large metropolis.

The Nairobi Expressway construction project is ahead of schedule.

According to Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia the partially elevated 27-kilometer highway from Mlolongo through Uhuru Highway to the James Gichuru Road junction in Westlands that was initially to be completed in December 2022 but was speeded up to December 2021 is currently 75 percent complete.

“Almost all closed sections along Mombasa Road have already been partially opened to ease traffic jams,” the CS said.

Kenyans will pay toll charges to use the road, whose construction will ensure “seamless flow of traffic”, among other economic benefits, according to the CS.

Motorists using Uhuru Highway and Mombasa Road have been forced to use alternative routes as construction work continues to create traffic snarl-ups.

China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which is financing and building the expressway, will also repair the road. According to the CS, the Sh72 billion budget for the entire project will also be used to repair the three roads, which are in deplorable condition.

Traffic gridlock

“During construction, the old road was damaged as the contractor had to do piling. But the contractor will restore the old road and leave it better than they found it,” Mr. Macharia said.

Construction started last year and has come at a high cost for businesses and residents on Mombasa Road, with motorists enduring traffic constant traffic gridlock.

The dual carriageway will have 10 interchanges, including the standard gauge railway terminus at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Eastern Bypass, Southern Bypass, and Enterprise Road.

“By December, we will be able to test-drive from Nextgen Mall through the city centre to St Mark's Church, covering 8.2 kilometers.

We’re happy with the progress and test runs on the road will take place in March next year as we are confident that the contractors will have completed all works by February,” he said.

Kenyans will be expected to pay between Sh100 and Sh1,550 in toll charges, depending on the size of the vehicle and the distance covered.

The expressway is a four-lane and six-lane dual carriageway within the existing median of Mombasa Road-Uhuru Highway-Waiyaki Way. President Kenyatta launched it in October 2019 and it’s expected to be completed and opened for traffic early next year.

“The Nairobi Expressway is the first public-private partnership road project in Kenya. The concessionaire [CRBC] is responsible for designing, financing, and building the expressway, and will maintain and operate it during the concession period,” he said.

Moja Expressway, a subsidiary of CRBC, will operate the road for 27 years to recoup funds through toll fees.

Now, is Nairobi Expressway a good idea?

I’m excited to write about this because this was one of my school papers that I enjoyed giving my opinion on. Now that I’m running this blog, I don’t see the reason why not to write about it here. 

Allow me to summarize bits about the expressway. The State-backed multi-billion-shilling expressway that is to be developed would ease traffic along Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway, and Waiyaki Way. Construction began in October 2019 and the road is planned to be in operation by June next year.

The expressway will have four-lane and six-lane dual carriageways within the current median of Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway, and Waiyaki Way, as well as 10 interchanges. The segment from the Eastern and Southern by-passes would be a six-lane dual carriageway, while the section from the Southern Bypass to James Gichuru will be a four-lane dual carriageway.

The purpose of the project is to allow a relatively limited number of personal vehicles to move faster. The highway traffic forecast predicts that approximately 22,000 private motor vehicles will use the facility compared to over 500,000 planned passengers per day on Line 1 BRT. Motorists using the Nairobi Expressway under construction can prepare to pay toll charges as high as Sh1,798 for each journey.          

The worrying issues concerning the project:

  • Road designs and construction plans tend to have little concern for green spaces, yet green spaces are at the center of sustainable development.
  • The project requires a substantial acquisition of land, partially due to the need for large areas for toll plazas. This makes the project costly and will draw on funds that could otherwise be invested in much-needed sustainable transport alternatives for 80% of Nairobi’s walking and cycling residents.
  • The business model of the project promotes the use of private cars. This goes against the best practice in urban mobility of reducing the use of personal motor vehicles. It also goes against attempts to remedy existing inequality and to tackle local air pollution and climate change.

Other long-term impacts of road expansion are increased car travel, increased demand for parking (which is already limited), increased fuel consumption, vehicle exhaust pollution, and road accidents.

Many of these overhead urban highways have proved to attract more cars and lead to changes in adjacent use because of perceived ‘infrastructure improvements’ which results in more congestion. After finding they didn’t help alleviate the congestion of traffic, several cities that had set up overhead highways have finally taken them down.

Will the project have a positive impact on the common man? It would be curious to see how this toll policy works and how the public reacts, as the same thing happened in Johannesburg and the drivers actually refused to pay for what they did not pay for before – which contributed to significant financial difficulties for the national road agency and its ability to do their job.

Now here is the importance of public participation, I came across this tweet and it was a good idea however the main concern about the cycling path under the Expressway will be the security of cyclists. If the spaces won’t be used they will be claimed by the homeless for shelter or hawkers and small shops.

What are your thoughts on the ongoing construction of the Nairobi expressway?

Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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