A traffic pile-up on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway in June 2021. [Photo/ Standard]
A traffic pile-up on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway in June 2021. [Photo/ Standard]

Calls are growing louder for the government to fast track upgrades of major highways in the country – especially the Nairobi-Nakuru and Nairobi-Mombasa roads.

Recent snarl-ups on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway at areas such as Gilgil, in particular, have fueled a wave of sentiments from Kenyans online on the highways. Plans to expand the roads have been in the pipeline for years, but both projects are yet to take off.

So what’s their current status and what is the likelihood of the upgrades being undertaken?

Nairobi-Nakuru Expressway

Construction of the toll highway from Nairobi to Mau Summit was scheduled to begin in September 2021, but the project has faced numerous delays.

The works will see the Nairobi-Nakuru highway expanded to a four-lane dual carriageway. It will also involve widening the existing Rironi- Mai Mahiu–Naivasha road to become a seven-metre carriageway with two-metre shoulders on both sides, construction of a four-kilometre elevated highway through Nakuru city, and building and improvement of interchanges along the highway.

The Kenya National Highways Authority picked the Rift Valley Connect consortium, comprising Vinci Highways SAS, Meridian Infrastructure Africa Fund and Vinci Concessions SAS as the preferred bidder for the project. The French consortium is expected to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the expressway.

The firm will then recoup its finances using the revenues and income generated by the electronic toll collection system along the road for 30 years.

The consortium has however sought to bring on board several financiers for the project which is expected to cost Ksh180 billion.

A recent announcement by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) has raised hopes that the works could begin soon. AfDB intends to offer a Ksh17.5 Billion loan as one of several financiers backing the project. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is also on board.

“We are working with the project promoters and 10 other development financiers,” AfDB Director-General for East Africa Nnena Nwabufwo confirmed.

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The release of the funds is expected to allow for construction on the mega-project to begin.

Nairobi-Mombasa Highway

The planned construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa expressway has failed to take off since 2017 when the government first unveiled the plans.

It was estimated that it would cost around Ksh300 billion. The project ran into controversy from the onset, as US firm Bechtel which was to construct the toll road received the offer two days to the August 2017 elections.

Some read political mischief due to the timing being so close to the polls. At the time, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former US President Donald Trump were pushing for closer business ties between Kenya and the US.

The single sourcing of Bechtel also sparked a storm as MPs raised questions on the process, noting that Kenyans could have perhaps secured a better deal through a more transparent process.

Bechtel ended up turning down Kenya’s offer to build it under a PPP model that would see the firm recoup the funds used in construction by operating the toll stations for a number of years. Bechtel argued that it made more sense for Kenya to take an outright loan to finance the project.

“The contractor has indicated that the country will get better value for money if the road is constructed under an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) model rather than a toll model,” the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) stated in its report.

Little has been forthcoming in the way of government communication on the future of the project.

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