Bett rules out demolitions ahead of link road project

A section of Uhuru highway at the Museum Hill overpass. The Roads ministry has ruled out compulsory acquisition of land for the JKIA-Rironi highway. Photo/William Oeri
A section of Uhuru highway at the Museum Hill overpass. The Roads ministry has ruled out compulsory acquisition of land for the JKIA-Rironi highway. Photo/William Oeri  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Businesses and property owners along Nairobi’s Mombasa Road have been spared losses after the government announced that it will not require additional land for the reconstruction of the 50-kilometre JKIA-Rironi highway.

The project, which includes construction of an overpass on Uhuru Highway, will instead be confined to the existing road reserves and the island on Mombasa Road and Uhuru highway, Roads minister Franklin Bett said.

The decision ends months of speculation that the building of the highway, meant to ease congestion in the city, would involve compulsory acquisition of additional land and demolition of prime property on both sides of the road. 

Mr Bett said the government had opted for a new design that will use the available space to build the extra lanes and the pillars to support the overpass.

“We are not acquiring any land for this project. Even the overpass will have its pillars stand on the existing island,” Mr Bett said.

The highway, which is co-funded by the government and the World Bank to the tune of Sh25.5 billion, has eight components, including construction of additional lanes on the 12-kilometre stretch between JKIA and Nyayo Stadium.

It also involves construction of an elevated road with two lanes on each side between Nyayo Stadium and Museum Hill Roundabout and the building of additional lanes from Museum Hill Roundabout to Uthiru.

The 18-kilometre section between Uthiru and Rironi is also to be rehabilitated while the Airport South Road will be turned into a dual carriageway with access roads to the Inland Container Depot at Embakasi.

“Our consultants are in the final stages of the design but the concept will certainly not require extra land,” Mr Bett said.

Senior officials from the Ministry of Roads said the new design also lowers the risk of contravening the World Bank’s policy on social and environmental impact of sponsored projects, including resettlement of displaced persons.

The government had initially planned to build a 77-kilometre pay-for-use road between the Athi River Junction on Mombasa Road and Kikuyu on the Naivasha highway with toll booths near the Sameer Business Park.

Construction of such facilities required substantial parcels of land on either side of the highway that would have required additional land acquisition and demolition of buildings.

Under the initial plan, the road would be built and managed through a concession consisting of six sections totalling 77km. The 30-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) deal would have seen motorists use the facility for a fee commonly referred to as “toll charges” payable to the concessionaire.

Initial estimates indicated that users would pay about Sh572 per day.

However, the plan was abandoned after businesses and property owners opposed the demolitions proposed as part of the construction plan.

Questions were also raised about the integrity of Strabag, the Austrian firm that had won the concession tender. This caught the attention of the World Bank, which reacted by withholding funding for the Sh67 billion project until a comprehensive due diligence was conducted on Strabag International – leading to a two-year delay of the construction work.

“The World Bank found that the systems and approach to compliance procedures would not be commensurate with the circumstances of this project and the governance risks facing this sector,” the bank said in a letter to the government.

“Accordingly, the World Bank Group is not prepared to participate in financing the consortium involved in this project as currently structured,” said Johannes Zutt the World Bank’s Kenya country director.

Strabag unsuccessfully tried to convince the government and the World Bank to proceed with the project.

Dropped the concept

On Monday, Mr Bett said the government had formally dropped the concept of the toll road and would pursue the new model recommended by consultants.

“The pressure of traffic from the expanded Thika Road is building and we need supporting networks fast,” he said in a telephone interview with the Business Daily.

Statistics show that Nairobi’s main roads such as Outer Ring Road, Uhuru Highway, Haile Selassie Road, Mbagathi Way, Lang’ata Road and Waiyaki Way are used on average by 80,000 vehicles a day — way beyond their design capacity.

Kenya’s decision to drop the toll-road concept and keep the World Bank as a partner reflects the difficulty that the government faced trying to find financiers as sources of lending dried up in the wake of the recent global economic crisis.

Finding a new financier would take time, further delaying the project while relying on commercial loans would make the project too expensive.
Tenders for construction of the new road are expected to be published before the end year.

“Once we have the detailed design we shall immediately float tenders for construction,” Mr Bett said.

He said the government will only acquire a small portion of land for the construction of an interchange connecting James Gichuru and Naivasha roads.

“We intend to have a big interchange in the section around the KARI which may require some extra land,” Mr Bett said.

A consultancy report obtained by the Business Daily shows that some informal businesses on the route such as billboards and street lights will have to be moved to pave way from the project. This is expected to cost Sh106.5 million.