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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Outer Ring road upgrade a game changer

Outer Ring Road under construction. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
Outer Ring Road under construction. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

If there is a form of development that benefits the entire society without discrimination, it is investment in infrastructure. A proper road network creates a stimulating effect that not only creates wealth, but also enhances social cohesion and integration.

There is a strong correlation between a country’s economic development and the quality of its road network. Roads are at the heart of our social and economic development as they facilitate trade by connecting people and improving the movement, not only of goods, but also services.

It is out of this realisation that the Jubilee administration has, in the past four years, consciously made significant efforts to improve the country’s road network, through the Transport ministry. Nairobi has been at the centre of this transformation.

Known for its knotty traffic jams, and considering that 60 per cent of the country’s wealth (Gross Domestic Product) is generated here, it was necessary for the country to upgrade the city’s road network as a matter of urgency.

In the last six years, many roads, including bypasses, have been constructed in Nairobi, while others have been rehabilitated. They include the Thika Superhighway, Southern, Northern and Eastern bypasses; and the expansion of Ngong, Upper Hill and Eastleigh roads.

Key to this transformation is the Sh8 billion construction and modernisation of Outer Ring Road, which has been opened to the public, but will be commissioned within the next few weeks. It will serve the populous Eastlands. This area houses over 2.6 million or 60 per cent of the city’s dwellers and its most active workforce.

The road was previously a 10km, two-way single carriageway, which was constrained to carry some 1,040 vehicles per hour per lane, clearly stretching its design capacity of just 800 vehicles.

It is estimated, for instance, that in 2014, some 40,000 vehicles used the previous road, occasioning the loss of a massive Sh50 million due to incessant gridlock that had almost become a fixture the road. A trip from Ruaraka to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport would, for instance, take two hours.

All this is now set to be history with the ongoing dualling and improvement of the section between Thika Road Junction (GSU) and Eastern Bypass junction. Ease of access to the airport will further cement Nairobi’s status as a regional trade logistics hub.

But the project holds other transformative advantages too.

As has been seen with other city road projects, an improved and modern Outer Ring Road is expected to improve accessibility (to Eastlands), reduce travel time for commuters and increase property value, besides boosting the general business environment for informal traders.

It is estimated that by improving the existing road, the annual vehicular Green House Gas emission rates would drop by at least 70 per cent due to improved average traffic operating speeds, with the integration of the Bus Rapid Transit System as envisaged by the year 2022.

Works on the 13km project, which includes loops and ramps for interchanges and additional lengths at junctions, involves the construction of 10 footbridges, service roads, grade separated intersections and provisions for Non-Motorised Traffic (walkways and cycle tracks). To the planners’ credit, the project also includes relocation of informal traders along the highway to a designated market area along the road.

As an integral addition to the project, the contractor has been awarded the construction of a wholesale market for fresh produce at Sh868 million. This is further expected to create jobs for residents, especially women, while economically transforming a hitherto economically neglected area.

Equally significant, the project has seen at least 500 youths who used to hawk along the corridor trained to acquire life (including HIV-Aids awareness) and technical skills in various institutions in the past three years.

This milestone project is expected to improve Nairobi City economically and put it strongly on the path to achieving Vision 2030 developmental goals.

The government has also upgraded several roads in Eastlands to create a viable and robust infrastructural network. They include Komarock, Eastlands, Eastleigh, Lunga Lunga, Nanyuki Road, Enterprise, Likoni, Lusaka, Mumias and Industrial Area roads.

Plans are underway to dual the Eastern and Northern bypasses. With this, perhaps Outer Ring Road might acquire a new name, say Inner Ring Road.

Many businesses have started relocating to Eastlands. Of note has been the establishment of huge supermarkets, malls, godowns, industries and production parks.

Investors appear keen to take advantage of the availability and proximity to labour, transport, export and import facilities that the unprecedented investment in modern infrastructure has spawned.

The author is the acting director general, Kenya Urban Roads Authority

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